The Immortal Alain Robbe-Grillet
BAMcinematek, Brooklyn Academy of Music
30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn
July 10–15, 2008
When Last Year at Marienbad was released in 1961, its startling narrative sleight-of-hand was puzzled out by two artists at the top of their game: Alain Resnais’ directorial mastery fused with Alain Robbe-Grillet’s inventive screenplay in this tale of nameless protagonists who meet in a chateau where they may or may not have had an affair sometime before.
The ultimately inscrutable immortality of Marienbad is a tribute to both men’s distinctive but complementary talents. Resnais went on to make other structurally inventive classics such as Muriel, Mon Oncle d’Amerique and Love unto Death, while Robbe-Grillet (R-G) -- whose story-free novels helped usher in a new wave of French fiction in the 1950s, the “nouveau roman” -- soon became an acclaimed if cultish filmmaker in his own right.
BAMcinematek’s series The Immortal Alain Robbe-Grillet revisits the heyday of R-G’s cinematic achievements. It offers a sampler of the work of the uncompromising screenwriter and director, who died in February at age 85.
Although the Marienbad screenings are the series’ calling card, equally intriguing are rare showings of the first four films in R-G’s career as a writer-director: L’immortelle (1963), Trans-Europ Express (1966), The Man Who Lies (L’homme qui ment, 1968), and Eden and After (L’Eden et après, 1971). All of these consolidate his original notion that plot, characterization, and psychology are not the be-all and end-all of novels and cinema; and all of them display R-G's proficient visual technique, which grew more assured with each subsequent film.
Even though later R-G films would tred similar thematic ground with diminishing returns, 1983’s La belle captive represented something of a partial comeback and is currently the only one of his films on DVD, possibly because of the profuse nudity. It’s too bad that BAM didn’t include R-G's final film, Gradiva (2006), in the series as a final epitaph for its maker. Still, the screening of four influential if little-seen films by one of European art cinema’s least-well-known auteurs is noteworthy.