Jesse's Reviews > Last Year at Marienbad: Text for the Film by Alain Resnais

Last Year at Marienbad by Alain Robbe-Grillet
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Nov 07, 09

bookshelves: my-film-books, film-and-lit-connections
Read in September, 2009

Called a screenplay, but is it? It's what novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet submitted to filmmaker Alain Resnais (who then turned it into one of the most beguiling films in all of cinema); before its publication Robbe-Grillet returned to it and altered some elements that had been subtly changed by Resnais in the translation to the screen. Even still—and I'm confident this was quite intentional on the writer's part—undeniable differences remain between "screenplay" and film (a pearl bracelet, constant suggestions for a nonexistent atonal soundtrack, an explicit depiction of rape).

So is it a screenplay, a novel, a novel about the act of making a film, a film a novel about the act of writing for film? (The "official" interpretation, whether helpful or not, printed boldly on the cover: "text by Alain Robbe-Grillet for the film by Alain Resnais." But even this is misleading—it is not the text submitted for filming, but a text rewritten in response to the completed film.) I tend to agree with Jean-Louis Leutrat in L'Année dernière à Marienbad: what we have here is in fact "two quasi-simultaneous and inseparable works" that are "at once divergent and complimentary." And here we are, stranded in the labyrinth of topics and issues that I hope to address and explore in my graduate studies. I've managed to stumble in—will there be a way out?

"One of the two works (but which?) would be a rewrite of the other; and not just because, using its own means, the one translates the other." -Leutrat

The main question, or at least the only one I was able to articulate through this reading: these differences, these slippages, are they points of reverberation or of resistance? In the process of mutual translation, the echos add (reveal?) new facets, new points of entry into the maze, but one thing is clear: the act of mutual translation does not clear up any of the mystery, but only push both further along into the shadowlands of unknowability. One wishes that the "original" text submitted to be filmed was available; one is aware, however, that it would clarify exactly nothing. But should clarity really be required from two works that presumably strive to clarify a narrative, but in the end only reveal that clarity is in fact an impossibility?

"X: You weren't waiting for anything any more. It was as if you were dead... That's not true! You are still alive. You are here. I see you. You remember. (Brief pause.) That's not true... probably. You've already forgotten everything."
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