It is one year since these two met – one man, one woman. They promised to meet each other again at the same place, exactly 365 days later. Unfortunately, the woman does not remember this promise; she does not remember the man at all. And so a maze game of memories and emotions begins.
This is the premise of “Last Year at Marienbad,” a 1961 movie by French director Alain Resnais that changed the course of film history. With its unconventional narrative, surreal storyline and stylish look, “Last Year at Marienbad” had an effect that reached far beyond movie theaters, influencing the worlds of fashion, advertising, visual art and videos.
Essentially a poem dressed up like a film, “Last Year at Marienbad” was the creation of Resnais and screenwriter Alain Robbe-Grillet, who deliberately created an abstract, dreamlike work. Many viewers have found it revolutionary, while others find it incomprehensible and boring. And that is exactly what this film is about – it can be interpreted in a million different ways.
Unlike anything made before, it touches the audience’s emotions thanks to its mysterious, almost gloomy atmosphere. The editing can be especially confusing, with characters doing apparently contradictory things in different scenes. The effect is to take viewers to a different dimension, where time and space play a supporting role.
Unfortunately, the current exhibition of the same name showing at Galerie Rudolfinum does not offer such enjoyment. It is rather a disappointment. This incomprehensible arrangement of photos and space installations leaves you puzzled, but in a different way than the film does. It almost seems like the gallery had to fill its empty rooms with something, and it did not matter what.
Moreover, it is essential to mention that despite its name, the movie has nothing to do with the Czech spa town; it was filmed in Munich. Which leads us to the actual content of the exhibition. The majority of the displayed objects do not have any connection to the film, and visitors can be misled.
This begins in the very first room, which features a painting by the Belgian artist Paul Delvaux. His surreal (although Delvaux did not like being put in any “ism”) 1937 work “Pink Bows” definitely grabs the viewer’s attention. While his depiction of naked women with a touch of mythology is admirable, it inevitably leads visitors to ask themselves: How is this related to the film?
The commercial part of the exhibition is also puzzling. The famous designer Coco Chanel created the costumes for the film, and in some parts the actors seem to behave like they are on a catwalk. For instance, when the woman is running through the gardens, her dress blowing in the wind is clearly the center of attention. Karl Lagerfeld, another well-known fashion designer, drew inspiration for his 2011 spring collection from her costumes and the film’s aesthetic. His work is in the show, but Chanel’s is not, which is a pity. The costumes played an important role in the original film, and would have spiced up the monotony of the exhibition. As it is, the exhibition seems to be using the film’s name mostly to promote other artists.
Not every piece in the exhibition is unrelated to the film. For instance, a series of beautiful drawings by British artist Marie Harnett depict the most crucial parts of the film. Japanese-German painter Kota Ezawa, inspired by the film’s unique atmosphere, painted the main characters in her simple-looking style.
But with such a mix of different art and especially styles, the desire to reveal the tempting oddness of the film suddenly disappears. Overall, it is treated as another classic post-war film, and its uniqueness is overlooked.
Which is sad, because the Rudolfinum has recently opened a cinema called Kino Rudolfinum offering various artistic films connected to ongoing exhibitions. “Last Year at Marienbad” is the first one to launch this project. However, the intention to promote the actual work of art resulted in the opposite, leaving you bored with little interest to come back again.
“Last Year in Marienbad: A Fim as Art”
Galerie Rudolfinum, through Nov. 27
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Julia Manzerova