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Alain Resnais, Director And Master Of Disorientation, Dies At 91


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Audie Cornish.

The French filmmaker who shook up European cinema and offered inspiration to directors as varied as Woody Allen and David Lynch died on Saturday. Alain Resnais caused a sensation with his films "Hiroshima Mon Amour" and "Last Year at Marienbad" in the 1950s and '60s. Critic Bob Mondello offers an appreciation.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Memory, or rather how unreliable memory can be, fascinated Alain Resnais. So it makes sense that his films often felt like waking dreams. The black-and-white images that first brought him to world prominence, for instance, two people in a neon-lit cityscape in "Hiroshima Mon Amour:" a French actress, known only as she, and a Japanese architect known only as he.


EMMANUELLE RIVA: (as Elle) (Foreign language spoken)

MONDELLO: Their brief affair is ending, and their memories of it are markedly different. He accuses her of lying or being confused. She compares failed relationships to the nuclear cataclysm that gives the film its title.


RIVA: (as Elle) Hiroshima.

MONDELLO: The film's dialogue was written not by a screenwriter but by a novelist, and Resnais didn't even try to tell the story in chronological order, or otherwise explain things to the audience. His next feature, "Last Year at Marienbad," was disorienting in different ways. In a luxurious European hotel, a man named X tries to convince a woman named A that they've had an affair.


DELPHINE SEYRIG: (as A) (Foreign language spoken)

GIORGIO ALBERTAZZI: (as X) (Foreign language spoken)

MONDELLO: She swears she doesn't remember him, but he has photos. So is one of them lying? Could he have mistaken her for someone else? Here, and in most of his films, Resnais is less interested in answers than in posing intriguing questions, which did not endear him to mainstream audiences, or necessarily to critics.

Pauline Kael famously dismissed his early work as all solemn and expectant, like High Mass. And that's not an unreasonable thing to say about a filmmaker who cut his teeth on documentaries about Van Gogh and Picasso, and who, in a groundbreaking early film about German concentration camps called "Night and Fog," illustrated with stately visuals a narrator's line: The blood is caked, the cries stilled, the camera now the only visitor.


MICHEL BOUQUET: (as Narrator) (Foreign language spoken)

MONDELLO: Still, as Resnais career went on, his experiments with cinematic form and, indeed, his interests were hardly all serious or centered in high culture. In the early 1960s, he amassed the largest private collection of comic books in all of France. In the '70s, he recruited Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim to write the score for his film "Stavisky." And he'd recently been telling interviewers he took inspiration from his favorite TV show, Larry David's "Curb Your Enthusiasm." All of which kept his filmmaking eccentric as his hair turned white, and also allowed him to keep art house audiences regularly off balance.

Two years ago, more than a half century into his career, he impishly released a film titled "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet." Three weeks ago, at the Berlin Film Festival, at the age of 91, he was awarded a Silver Bear prize for innovation. And he was reportedly drafting plans for his next picture from his hospital bed when he died. No doubt, it would have surprised us. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.