Saturday, November 07, 2009

Alain à la recherche #1: Marienbad

by Ryland Walker Knight

[The Resnais series playing at the PFA this November and December is part of a broader, traveling retrospective with a concurrent run in Chicago at the Gene Siskel Film Center and a proposed stop at the newly renovated Museum of the Moving Image in early 2010.]

This was the third time I've seen Marienbad. As with the first, and the second, it feels like the first time I've seen Marienbad. I don't know if that will persist as I keep seeing Marienbad, as I have, year after year, or one screening one year followed by a pair of years of gap, then a pair of screenings spaced by a year. Last year, I saw Marienbad at The Castro. Before that, a few years before that, I saw Marienbad on a shitty DVD. Needless to say, a year ago was optimal, and new. This time, a year later, unlike last year, the print was a little more travelled, and weathered, but every image still crackles and every edit whips. In any year, it seems, Resnais is a crisp filmmaker. This year, too, the jokes kept hitting harder and harder. Marienbad is easily and stupidly misinterpreted as a dead bore, as nothing but pretension, when, in fact, every repetition is a redetermination of the same joke. The film is one big repetition, or one repetition after another—a Deleuze wet dream, maybe—which means it's one big joke, or one great joke over and over. And every joke is about repetition, and how that can cheapen the serious, and how cheap that can look and feel—and how it piles on—despite being dressed up in the classiest clothes and setting and ornamentation and gloomy mirrors and feathered collars imaginable. Imagination, it seems, is what our Man lacks; or, what he's got in spades; but if he's got it in spades, he's got a poor, somber capacity for it, for fun; that is, it's in spades. He sees a maze as a maze. We might say Resnais sees the maze as the stage, or an arena of invention. You don't map your way out—you look around, you turn corners. But Marienbad, for everything above (inside?), like its jokes and its mirrors, all its doubles and triples and quadruples, all of that remains, in any time, at any rate and in any event, some hopelessly walled-in picture of present tense stasis. —Now, though, I wonder: how come I find that this hilarious this year?


  1. agreed with mr. kenny. this is a stunning set of observations and conveys a certain something about marienbad that's hard to work into conversation. thank you for finding the elusive words!!

  2. I'm going to use your words in the next installment of the decade-long argument with my wife about whether that movie is awesome or terrible.

  3. Well, assuming you're on the "awesome" side of things, that is very, very flattering. Thanks.