Singapore & Asian Film News Portal since 2006

Film Review: ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ Is an Achingly Beautiful Film About the Fragility of Memory3 min read

19 January 2021 3 min read


Film Review: ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ Is an Achingly Beautiful Film About the Fragility of Memory3 min read

Reading Time: 3 minutes

A French actress filming an anti-war film in Hiroshima has an affair with a married Japanese architect as they share their differing perspectives on war.

Director: Alain Resnais

Cast: Emmanuelle Riva, Eiji Okada, Bernard Fresson

Year: 1959

Country: France, Japan

Language: French

Runtime: 90 minutes

Film Trailer:

Reviewing Hiroshima Mon Amour is a tremendous undertaking — what can be said about the landmark film that hasn’t been said? The film, together with its contemporaries of the French New Wave, revolutionised cinematic storytelling with their non-linear forms and approaches.

Considerably less mischievous and dismissive of conventions than his peers, it would be director Alain Resnais’s feature-length debut that played an integral part in transforming the spirit of the movement into devastating art.

Hiroshima Mon Amour follows the short-lived affair between French actress Elle (Emmanuelle Riva) and married Japanese architect Lui (Eiji Okada) in Hiroshima. Throughout their 24 hours together, Elle reveals and recalls a repressed and forgotten memory about her wartime affair with a German soldier back in her French hometown of Nevers.

It’s a deceivingly thin premise that hides much of the film’s profound exploration of loss, the fickleness of memory, and the post-war trauma wrought by the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It would seem absurd — or even insensitive — to parallel the horrors of the atomic bomb with doomed romances. Yet, Hiroshima Mon Amour not only pulls this massive task off, it does so in breathtaking fashion.

A loving embrace opens the film; the parallel is immediate with ash raining down the lovers’ bodies. However, beauty is found in the ghastly imagery too with the ash morphing into glistening sweat. It’s a poetic contrast of two extremes that would come to define Hiroshima Mon Amour. Passion spliced between horrors of war. Newsreels of devastated ruins with a recovering Hiroshima. And soon, the modern neon lights of Hiroshima with the French countryside. 

All of its imageries meld together into an expression of life’s fragility — both as physical beings and as fragments of memories. How Hiroshima Mon Amour jumps between locations and times only adds to its attempts at transcending these boundaries. Ironically, what anchors the film from achieving this is with the unforgettably heartrending performance of its two leads and the chemistry they share, constantly reminding the audience of the raw pain that necessitates living.

The breadth of influence Hiroshima Mon Amour continues to be expressed by critics and filmmakers alike. Filmic techniques, such as the blending of the past and present, opened up new storytelling possibilities for generations of filmmakers. Framing, compositions and camera movements found in the film continue to be seen and emulated in today’s arthouse cinema.

Yet, perhaps one of the film’s greatest triumphs is with how accessible it is. Unlike the free-spirited (and oftentimes, challenging) nature of most French New Wave cinema, its rigidness, mesmerising emotional depth, and its universal theme of heartbreak and loss make Hiroshima Mon Amour a prime gateway film. 

Hiroshima Mon Amour has influenced countless filmmakers and storytellers since its release in 1959. One of which is undeniably auteur Wong Kar-wai. Check out our TikTok video highlighting Hiroshima Mon Amour’s influence on In the Mood for Love

If you love In The Mood for Love, be sure to check out Hiroshima Mon Amour! ##fyp ##cinematography ##movierecommendation ##film ##movie ##inthemoodforlove

♬ where is my mind – jewel 😏

Stream Hiroshima Mon Amour and countless other cinematic hallmarks on Mubi, a streaming platform dedicated to hosting classic and arthouse cinema.

Subscriptions start at $13 per month, with special offers available for students. Check with your educational institutions for more information — Nanyang Technological University students, for example, are able to access the platform for free.

There's nothing Matt loves more than "so bad, they're good" movies. Except browsing through crates of vinyl records. And Mexican food.
%d bloggers like this: