But the human drama is here something of a red herring, What is really at stake, and what the film director (Resnais) and screenwriter (Robbe-Grillet) pursued quite adamantly, is a kind of dazzling and atonal formal study in rhythm: rhythms of speech, incantatory repetitions, monotonous speech, as well as temporal and spatial disorientation.
In other words, we think we're watching a love story, but really this is video art: it is a black and white moving painting set to recited poetry, a hallucination of slow camera shots, repetitious images, a monotonous voice that insists on remembering, and another that insists on forgetting (if there is a subject, really, I would say this is a film about our watching of the film).
All of which leads me to reflect on how much I love this strategy: offering spectators a work that is seemingly one thing, though it is in fact very much another. A kind of misdirection in itself, practised so well by some of my favourite writers (Paul Auster's The New York Trilogy and Italo Calvino's books spring to mind). It is a device to captivate readers and spectators: the familiarity lures people in, and once inside, well, why not try something else? With Resnais' film, we might pay a visit for the plot, but once we get there we are shown slow hallucinatory takes of staircases and people standing immobile (9 minutes into the movie, and still no human being speaking).
There is so much potential in this strategy for magic and magic shows. Because magic is attractive and familiar, what better way of luring audiences with this red herring, and then turning towards stranger things? I promised a card trick... however, here's an experiment in rhythmic speech and deconstructed narrative, ha!
Unlike Resnais's film, however, I wonder if magic is more constrained by the promise inherent in the genre (the final surprise or revelation, the entertaining climax): no matter how much you stray from the magic trick, I wonder if as a magician you still have to end on that familiar, slightly toe-curling, but-oh-so-reassuring final note: "Ta-da...!"
Trailer for Last Year in Marienbad