Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: It’s Comics Week at The A.V. Club, and because we’ve already highlighted superhero movies and comic-book adaptations that aren’t about superheroes, we’re using the next five days to single out films whose imagery, storytelling, or themes are influenced by comics.
Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959)
Hiroshima Mon Amour is part of a small cluster of masterpieces that arrived around 1959 to 1962 and effectively codified the visual and narrative grammar filmmakers use today. Alain Resnais’ debut feature—about a French actress, her Japanese lover, and the painful wartime experiences that haunt them—created the template for most subsequent depictions of memory and remembering; any time a film or TV show makes an abrupt, suggestive cut to the past, that’s Hiroshima Mon Amour’s influence at work.
Hiroshima Mon Amour also has the distinction of being the first movie to be made by someone who had been seriously influenced by comics. Resnais—who remained adventurous and productive up until his death earlier this year—was the biggest cultural omnivore in film history, pulling subjects, ideas, and collaborators from diverse media, ranging from then-contemporary French literature to American musical theater and TV. (The X-Files was a late-career favorite.)
Shortly after Hiroshima premiered at Cannes, the seminal French film magazine Cahiers Du Cinéma, then the hotbed of New Wave activity, hosted a critics’ roundtable about the film. Early on in the conversation, Jean-Luc Godard—who was just a month away from starting production on his own seminal debut, Breathless—remarked that, though there are obvious influences on Hiroshima, a viewer “can’t identify it as such and such a filmmaker plus such and such another.” The ideas were, in other words, coming from somewhere other than film. When Resnais himself was asked, in interviews, about the biggest influence on the film’s groundbreaking editing and structure, he always gave the same answer: Chester Gould.
He wasn’t being facetious. Resnais had fallen in love with Gould’s Dick Tracy strip as a kid, and remained a lifelong fan. (For a time, he was in talks to direct the film adaptation that was eventually helmed by Warren Beatty.) And his interest in the medium was hardly limited to Gould. Before starting work on Hiroshima Mon Amour, Resnais had attempted to make a Tintin movie as his debut, and also tried to acquire the rights to the Western strip Red Ryder. In the 1960s, when Resnais was in vogue in high-brow circles, he was championing Marvel Comics. Stan Lee wanted Resnais to direct a Spider-Man movie, with Henry Winkler as Peter Parker, and though the project fell through, Resnais and Lee became close friends, working together on several more unproduced projects based on original scripts by Lee. Later, for his 1989 film I Want To Go Home, Resnais drafted cartoonist Jules Feiffer as screenwriter.
Comics were always on Resnais’ mind—and they’re all over Hiroshima Mon Amour. The movie’s deft handling of flashbacks and memory treats each shot as a panel. The relationship it creates between them is the definition of sequential art. The emotional depth it manages to create from the juxtaposition of these images suggests another word: graphic novel.
Availability: Hiroshima Mon Amour is available on Criterion DVD, which can be obtained from Netflix, and to rent or purchase through the major digital services or at your local video store.