Oscar Movies: Last Year at Marienbad–Alain Resnais’ Mysteriously Beautiful Tale

Alain Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad is an experimental film that, among other things, explores the formal possibilities of film.

Beautifully shot in Cinemascope by Sacha Vierny, a quintessential figure of the French New Wave, the movie is a puzzle, a mysterious riddle about the relationship between a present and a past, which may not even have existed at all, or perhaps existed in some of the characters’ subjective memories.

Time and memory are two of the most recurrent motifs in the work of Alain Resnais, a leader of the French New Wave.

A small group of elegantly dressed individuals wander through a grand palace and its elaborately geometrical gardens. Giorgio Albertazzi plays an unnamed sophisticated gentleman, who tries to seduce a similarly nameless woman (Delphine Seyrig) by claiming that they met and were romantically involved a year ago in the same enormous, baroque European estate.  The man and the woman are not constructed as realistic individuals or psychological characters

Relying on a series of gorgeous, almost frozen-in-time tableaux. Hypnotically dreamlike,on one level, “Last Year at Marienbad” can be seen as a surrealist parody of Hollywood romantic melodramas. According to screenwriter Alain Robbe-Grillet, the movie is a pure construction, without a frame of reference outside of its own existence.

Though highly regarded when first release, in later years, some critics have found it precious, pretentious and arid.

But even those who dismiss the film on conventional grounds of logic and narrative have to acknowledge its formal beauty and precise editing.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Story and Screenplay (Original): Alain Robbe-Grillet

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The winner of the Original Story Oscar were the Italian writers, Ennio de Concini, Alfredo Giannetti, and Pietro Germi (who directed) for “Divorce—Italian Style.”

Running time: 93 minutes.

Directed by Alain Resnais

Written by Alain Robbe-Grillet

Theaters (limited release): June 25, 1961.

DVD: February 23, 1999