Satyajit Ray, widely considered one of the most influential filmmakers in world cinema, was often an equally unapologetic commentator on the works of his peers. And that not only included directors in India, but also successful filmmakers of the neorealist genre and beyond, of which he was one of the masters.
In one such instance, Ray once came down heavily on an Alain Resnais film, and dismissed it as a “deliberate, sustained, two-hour exercise in arty obfuscation.” The film in question was L’Année dernière à Marienbad, Resnais’ 1961 French-Italian production. “The popular success of it,” Ray wrote, “is so mysterious that one can only attribute it to a sudden widespread epidemic of fashionable snobbery.”
L’Année dernière à Marienbad is one of the best known Resnais films and is famous for the enigmatic narrative structure that it follows. The screenplay is overtly-fluid and the film’s construction is more of a dreamlike narrative where the characters have no conclusive action, or what they are thinking, or remembering. Over the past half a century, the film has won applause and brickbats in equal measure, and Ray was certainly among the latter group.
The story of the film is set in a luxury hotel where the two lead characters, played by Giorgio Albertazzi and Delphine Seyring are likely to have met the year before and may have thought of starting an affair. The characters have no names and each one addresses the other impromptu. The uncertainty over what may have happened, puzzled several critics, including Ray.
Alain Resnais, in a career spanning more than six decades, was mostly known for his political films, and Night and Fog, his epochal 1956 documentary on the Nazi labour camps during World War II.
The Pather Panchali director’s comments on Resnais’ film reportedly appeared in the now defunct French film magazine Cinéthique, sometime in the late sixties.
Information courtesy: Biswajit Mitra