Cinema 1959: Great Year in World Cinema

1959: Great Film Year–Series of Articles

Many historians and film critics consider 1939 to be the best year in Hollywood’s history.  Though WWII had broken in Europe, the U.S. was still uninvolved directly—until Pearl Harbor in December 1941.  Indeed, movies were the country’s primary medium of entertainment.  The technology for TV was available but not widespread and it would take at least another decade for the revolutionary medium to take hold.


However, a case could be made that 1959 was just as good in film diversity and quality as 1939, perhaps even better (in my modest opinion).


For one thing, 1959 was the annus mirabilis of the French New Wave, a movement that revolutionized the world and language of cinema with some brilliant films.  Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless,” Francois Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows,” and Alain Resnais’ “Hirsohima, Mon Amour,” were all released in 1959, taking the Cannes Film fest by storm. (More about the 50th anniversary of the New Wave it in a future essay).


It was a terrific year for Hollywood, as well, perhaps the last one before the decline and demise of the old studio system.  For starters, Hitchcock made one of his most accessible and entertaining films, “North by Northwest,” Otto Preminger excelled with his Oscar-nominated interracial court melodrama, “Anatomy of Murder,” and Douglas Sirk arguably created his most stylish and influential melodrama, “Imitation of Life.”

Did I mention that Billt Wilder made one of the funniest movies to have come out of Hollywood, “Some Like It Hot,” with a trio of grand performances by Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, and Marilyn Monroe.

In the next two weeks, we will run a series of articles about the 1959 as one of the very best for American and foreign cinema.  Most of these movies are available on DVD (or VCR) and I highly recommend that you watch them, at your leisure, as counterbalanced to the blockbuster fare that has dominated this long Hollywood summer.

1959: French New Wave–Seminal Films

Hiroshima, mon Amour

Alain Resnais’ highly acclaimed film, “Hiroshima, mon amour,” is a thoughtful, contemplative and lyrical chronicle of a French movie actress and a Japanese architect, whose sensual love affair in Hiroshima evokes strange memories of the past and thoughts for the future.

It’s one of a half a dozen films, alongside two other stunning debuts, Francois Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows” and Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless,” which launched the French New Wave, a movement that revolutionized world cinema in its innovative approach to narrative, style and even audiences.

For some, Resnais’ feature debut, from a screenplay by Marguerite Duras, was the most startling film to emerge from France since WWII. It tells the story of a noted French actress (Emanuelle Rive) who visits Hiroshima and falls into an affair with a Japanese architect (Eiji Okada). But the setting evokes painful memories of her first lover, a German soldier who was shot on Liberation Day.

Addressing forgetfulness, the subjective nature of time, and the imminence of death, Resnais developed a unique editing style and narrative structure. Remarkable in theme and structure, “Hiroshima, mon amour” examines the relationship between time and memory in the context of a terrible atrocity. Resnais maintains the counterpoint between past and present by continuously shifting the narrative mode from the objective to the subjective.

Resnais’ work has been described by some critics as important in the evolution of cinema as a distinct art form as Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane.” Jean-Luc Godrad, a contemporary of Resnais, once described it as “Faulkner plus Stravinsky.” Perhaps the film’s most significant quality is that, within the narrative audacity and beauty of its composition, it remains a very moving love story.

One of the films that launched the French New Wave, “Hiroshima, mon amour” received the International Critics Prize at the 1959 Cannes Film festival.

Oscar Alert

Oscar Nominations: 1

Story and Screenplay (Original): Marguerite Duras

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The Oscar in that category went to Billy Wilder and I.A. L. Diamond for “The Apartment,” which also won Best Picture and Best Director.

French film with English subtitles

Running Time: 88 minutes