Hiroshima, Mon Amour

It's that time of the year again - the French Film Festival kicked off last Wednesday and will last until December 12. For the past four years, I've been one loyal fan of the festival. At the 2011 festival, I was most disappointed for being too late to get a ticket for the musical "Beloved" starring Catherine Deneuve. Luckily this year I've already booked one for her 1967 film "Beauty of the Day".

The day before yesterday I watched the 1959 film "Hiroshima, Mon Amour" in black and white, which is named a Cannes Classics at the 2013 Cannes International Film Festival. The scriptwriter, Marguerite Duras, who had her first venture in the world of cinema with this film, was nominated for an Oscar.

The story is about a French actress doing filming work in Hiroshima, where she meets a married Japanese man and falls in love with him. The timeline is about ten years after the atomic-bombing of Hiroshima. At the end of the three-day affair, the actress decides to leave her lover. The couple struggle with the pain of imminent separation. The camera oscillates between the past, with images of the aftermath of the bombing, and the present, with images of the lovers' day-to-day activities together with the actress's recollection of a tormenting end to a love affair with a German soldier at Nevers, France, during World War II, when he was killed.

I'm glad that I had stumbled upon a book about Marguerite Duras earlier in the week and was given to understand a little her unique literary style, which centers on the coexistence of past and present, memory and oblivion, love and death, which elements are readily identifiable in the film. In this film, she also departed from the conventional literary model by being sparse with descriptive details and shifting from single-voice narration to dialogue. The lack of descriptive details is intended to invoke in the audience the power of imagination. In the first fifteen minutes of the film, a male and a female voice converse with each other in the background, with the female trying to remember horrific scenes of the bombing and the male trying to negate her, representing a conflict between memory and oblivion. For the rest of the film, the protagonist's pain of memory and the pain of her inability to forget coexists with her lover's unrelenting effort to make her forget her past so that he could have a future with her.

Ten years after the bombing, Hiroshima is already back to normal life with a bright future. At the time of the lovers' encounter, the actress had also left Nevers to begin a new life in Paris. Towards the end of the film, the actress says to the Japanese man: "You're Hiroshima", and the Japanese man says to her "You're Nevers". After all, it is just a matter of forgetting and letting go of pain.

This film won the International Film Critics Award and the Film Writers Award. It also shared the Prix Melies with Francois Truffaut's "The 400 Blows". In 1960 it won the New York Film Critics Award for Best Foreign Film.