Hiroshima, Mon Amour (Zenith International), the work of Alain Resnais, a 37-year-old director of documentary films (Van Gogh, Night and Fog), is the acknowledged masterpiece of the New Wave of Gallic moviemakers (TIME, Nov. 16). The picture won a special prize at the Cannes Film Festival last spring and has been acclaimed in France as "a thousand films in one": an atomic horror movie, a pacifist tract, a Proustian exercise in recollection, a radioactive Romeo and Juliet. As a matter of fact, it is all these things and morean intense, original and ambitious piece of cinema.
The film begins with a vivid metaphor of love and death. A man and a woman lie in each other's arms in Hiroshima. Their bodies fill the screen in a luminous abstract of desire. But into this image of life burst images of deathrecorded by Japanese cameramen who moved into Hiroshima the day after the bomb fell. Director Resnais permits himself no sensationalism, but the merest glimpses of the horror that was Hiroshimaacres of charred and moaning humanityremind the audience with cruel force that the man and woman are making love in a mass grave.
Suddenly the lovers burst out laughing. They laugh with sheer delight in life, as if to say: Even in Hiroshima life goes on and life is good. And the woman murmurs musingly: "How could I have suspected that this city was made in the image of love?"
With this paradox, made startling by the context. Director Resnais introduces the theme of his film: Hiroshima, like God, is love. It is the Calvary of the Atomic Age. It died for man's sins. It descended into hell and rose again. "[On] the fifteenth day Hiroshima was covered with flowers . . . cornflowers and wild iris, bearbine and day lilies reborn from the ashes with a vigor never known before." And from the hell of Hiroshima, out of the death and transfiguration she finds there, the heroine also is reborn, revived by love.
In the first quarter of the film, Director Resnais states his theme with great power; in the second he develops it in an allegro of relationship between the hero (Eiji Okada), a Japanese architect, and the heroine (Emmanuelle Riva), a French actress. Later, in a passage of gloomy elegy that evokes the heroine's "amour impossible" with a German soldier during World War II, the film begins to lose a little of its immediacy and drive. And in the long, obscure, lugubriously beautiful finale the theme is lost in sententious variations.