“Last Year at Marienbad” – Nathan’s Movie Challenge, Week 28
“Empty salons. Corridors. Salons. Doors.”
So, you wouldn’t think it would be possible to find a film handsome and insufferable simultaneously. This is that film.
It’s quite beautiful to look at. It poses a narrative thread that dangles and shimmers while never coming into sharp focus. It allows you to reach your own conclusions of meaning while demanding your full attention.
It also reaches untold heights of pretentiousness. It might be the most quintessential “art film” of all time. Between its insistence on making “every frame a painting” and forcing actors to be puppets on a stage rather than resembling any sense of realism, it requires a whole lot of its audience – too much, I’d say.
It takes 21 minutes before the story begins, in earnest. That’s an unbearably long time to just “set a mood.”
Still, my takeaway was that it felt like it was a fairly clear-cut story of the dissolution of a marriage and the man who helped facilitate its demise. It’s not really much more complex than that – BUT – the film WANTS you to think it is. It tries tremendously hard to be more than it is.
It’s visually rich, narratively obtuse but also concise, and well edited – but also arduous, pompous, and ostentatious. It’s purposely stilted, so it’s inherently alienating. Maybe that’s the point?
Last Year at Marienbad was at the time of this review at #198 on my Flickchart list of shame (ranked #427 among the best films of all time). Here’s how it entered my chart:
Last Year at Marienbad vs. The Triplets of Belleville
Two very French films. The Triplets of Belleville is a fine animated film, but mostly forgettable. It’s a very average movie. Last Year firmly makes its impression, so it wins the matchup.
Last Year at Marienbad vs. The Great Dictator
I was surprised by Chaplin in The Great Dictator, and overall think it’s the stronger film here.
Last Year at Marienbad vs. Day of the Dead
There’s a lot of subtext to Day of the Dead‘s gore-romp – maybe even more than Marienbad‘s in the long run. Also, excellent practical effects. It’s close, but surprisingly, I think I enjoy Romero’s attempt over Marienbad.
Last Year at Marienbad vs. Battleship
I didn’t hate Battleship, but it’s not as good as Marienbad.
Last Year at Marienbad vs. X-Men
If it were X2, it might win here, but Marienbad is better than the first X-Men film.
Last Year at Marienbad vs. Signs
I really like the mood and tone of Signs. It’s a bit slow, though, and perhaps has a bit of a weak resolution. Another close call here – could go either way. I’ll give it to Signs for that knife under the door scene being what I consider the most tense sequence in all of cinema.
Last Year at Marienbad vs. Mannequin
Mannequin. It’s a movie that doesn’t get talked about much but is actually one of the most overtly romantic fantasy films of the 80s.
Last Year at Marienbad vs. The Jacket
While the premise of The Jacket was interesting, the excution wasn’t as exciting. Marienbad is better.
Last Year at Marienbad vs. Clue
Clue! Ensemble comedies can sometimes be a trainwreck. It’s wonderful when it’s not.
Last Year at Marienbad vs. 28 Days Later
It reinvented a stale genre. It’s not perfect, but it is laudable. I’ll give 28 Days Later the nod… but another close call.
Last Year at Marienbad vs. Career Opportunities
Ok, this one is a selfish one. It’s all about Jennifer Connelly. Well, mostly, but it’s also a great, quirky little John Hughes movie. They don’t make movies much like Career Opportunities anymore. I was borderline obsessed with it in 1991. I was 12 in 1991, so it personified the “discovering girls aren’t all icky” adolescent awakening for me in a lot of ways.
Last Year at Marienbad is now ranked #595 out of 1480 movies on my Best Movies of All-Time chart.
Next up is The Great Escape, The Dark Crystal, and Real Steel. In the meantime, check out the other films I’ve ranked during the challenge.