Embracing bodies, covered in dust, as though buried long ago, barely emerge from the dark. The particles of dust become sparkles of light, and then flesh emerges whole. It is a perfect beginning for a film about love and loss, war and horror, and the terrible ease of forgetting. I wanted to acknowledge the ongoing tragedy of earthquake, tsunami, and now nuclear disaster in Japan; discussing Hiroshima Mon Amour is a vehicle for me to obliquely honor those affected.
The film, made in 1959, at the beginning of the Ban the Bomb campaigns, was originally conceived as an anti-war documentary to be set in Hiroshima, the site of one of the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945. The director, Alain Resnais, instead enlisted the novelist Marguerite Duras to write a fictional screenplay. Her dreamlike, repetitive, incantatory prose, combined with compelling imagery and the beautifully delicate score by Giovanni Fusco, takes us into a world of intense feeling and regret.
It is a love story. A French actress, in Hiroshima to make a peace film, and a Japanese architect, neither of whom are named, meet and love over a day. In that time they, mostly she, talks. She goes to the Museum:
He: You saw nothing at Hiroshima. Nothing.He was at war when the bomb was dropped; he lost his family. To him, she saw nothing. Can we know what we do not experience?
She: Four times at the Museum at Hiroshima.
The photographs, the photographs, the reconstructions for lack of anything else.
Metal made as vulnerable as flesh.
He: you saw nothing at Hiroshima. Nothing.
She had her own small, personal story of war loss; her Japanese lover's sleeping hand brought back the pain of seeing the dead hand of her youthful lover, another impossible love. When she was 18 in the French village of Nevers, she fell in love with a German soldier.
He was killed, she was disgraced. What in other circumstances would be innocent love, in wartime became a crime. She had told this story to no one, not her French husband, only to Him, her Japanese lover. They spoke of the tragedy of forgetting; she feels she is forgetting the German, her first great love, and she begins to conflate the Japanese with the German.
She: Like you, I know what it is to forget.As we all have.
He: No, you don't know what it is to forget.
She: Like you, I too have struggled with all my might not to forget.
Like you, I forgot.
Can we live without forgetting?
In her he sees "a thousand women in one". In both of them we see the tragedies of war, huge and small. In the final scene they finally name each other:
She: Hiroshima. That's your name.
He: Yes, that's my name. And your name is Nevers, Nevers in France.