Thursday, May 24, 2018

"Hiroshima Mon Amour" and the Horror of Forgetting

Have you ever noticed people have
a way of noticing what they want?
 - from Hiroshima Mon Amour


In the film Hiroshima Mon Amour, a Japanese man asks a French woman, "What did Hiroshima mean to you in France?" She sets out six propositions:

The end of the war. I mean completely.

Astonishment that they dared do it,

and astonishment that they succeeded.

And the beginning of an unknown fear for us as well.

And then indifference.

And fear of indifference as well.

No simple answers. And it just gets more complicated from there . . . .


Scene from Hiroshima Mon Amour


Hiroshima Mon Amour is a provocation. It challenges us to wrestle with the real possibility that we will only eliminate nuclear weapons when we invest our whole personalities -- our hearts and our souls -- in the project.

In recent days I have been profiling a list of films about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

So now we come to Hiroshima Mon Amour. It is a film jointly produced by French and Japanese studios, set in Hiroshima, with a French director, a Japanese leading actor (who himself starred in an earlier Japanese film about Hiroshima), a French leading actress (playing the role of an actress in a movie-within-the-movie set in Hiroshima), featuring a long opening sequence about the atomic bombing of Japan, and continuing with a tale of forbidden love set in Nazi-occupied France, all in the the context of an affair fated to lapse in a matter of a few hours . . . .

If you are an anti-nuclear activist, you might be forgiven for objecting to the way that the tragedy of Hiroshima may seem to be elbowed into the background by not one, but two, compelling love stories in this film. I know I certainly struggled with such feelings when as I first watched it.

Later as I listened to several interviews with the director, Alain Resnais, I began to warm to his approach. What I heard him saying was: providing the facts about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima to people is necessary but not sufficient; to have an impact, we must deal with people as complex, feeling beings, beings in a perpetual whirl of sensing, forgetting, and remembering.

Put another way, people are, at every second, electing where to direct their gaze. That face? The tale of irrational love? (Yes? Never?) Do I like this? Abhor it? Don't ever want to let it go? Will I feel what I want to feel? Or what I should feel? Will I think what I don't want to think?

Real. Genuine. Sordid. Artificial. Forced. Noble.

I can forget it all if I want to.


Hotel room scene from Hiroshima Mon Amour


The film scholar François Thomas speaks of "interlaced combs" - the way past and present intertwine in Hiroshima Mon Amour, the way remembering and forgetting intertwine, and ultimately the way personal trauma and global trauma do, too.

In the opening sequence, we hear a woman's voice recount what she has learned about Hiroshima and the atomic bombing, telling about museum exhibitions, victim photographs, newsreels, and other evidence, testifying over and over, "I saw it" -- alternating with the a man's voice contradicting, "You didn't see."


Museum scene from Hiroshima Mon Amour


Having recently visited Hiroshima, including the exhibits at the Peace Museum which are explored in detail in the course of that opening sequence, I can begin to understand both the forcefulness of her testimony and the immediate assault of that voice challenging, "What? What have you seen?"


I will carry two statements from Hiroshima Mon Amour with me:

First, the simple plea of the Japanese man, in his elementary French, to the woman:

Reste á Hiroshima avec moi.

Second, the woman's avowal:

I tremble at forgetting such love.


See also: more films and resources about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.


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