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From History to Memory: Alain Resnais’ and Marguerite Duras’ Hiroshima mon amour

Author(s): Sarah French

Journal: EMAJ : Electronic Melbourne Art Journal
ISSN 1835-6656

Issue: 3;
Date: 2008;
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Keywords: Film History | 20th century film

This paper examines the representation of history and memory in Alain Resnais’ and Marguerite Duras’ 1959 film Hiroshima mon amour. It argues that the film’s privileging of subjective remembrance reflects a broader cultural interest in using memory as a counter discourse to established history. The widely documented cultural preoccupation with memory became particularly prominent in the early 1980s. However, Hiroshima mon amour can be read as an important early example of a film that predates the contemporary ‘memory boom’. For Resnais and Duras, the magnitude of the devastation in Hiroshima exceeds the limits of filmic representation. Their solution to the problem that the historic event is unrepresentable is to approach the event indirectly while focusing on an individual traumatic memory. Through a close analysis and critique of the film I argue that the film’s emphasis on individual memory validates the legitimacy of the personal narrative but problematically subsumes the political events and displaces history from the discursive realm. I also suggest that problems emerge in the film’s depiction of its traumatised female subject. While Hiroshima mon amour represents a complex female subjectivity and interiority, the process of remembrance depicted deprives the woman of agency and renders her trapped within a compulsive repetition of the past.

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