Critique of “The War is over” by Alain Resnais: transforming genre conventions into an intellectual adventure
Alain Resnais, whose centenary is celebrated in a retrospective at the Film Forum, began his career with three feature films whose radical formalism remains, to this day, conceptually unequaled. In these films – ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’, ‘Last Year in Marienbad’ and ‘Muriel’, which he made from 1959 to 1963 – Resnais merged aesthetics and politics; he foregrounded the technical and dramatic infrastructure of the medium to account for the inseparability of social forces and the private lives of his characters, the grand story and personal memory. His next feature, 1966’s ‘War Is Over’ – which arrives Friday, in a new restoration, for a week – reveals a glorious paradox: a largely straightforward political thriller, it’s superficially far more conventional than his films. previous ones, but it’s more practically transformative. Resnais’ revisions to the thriller genre offer a toolkit for wholesale revision of mainstream cinema, while turning a mirror on his own place in the world of film and politics. In doing so, he pays surprising homage to – and distances himself from – one of his main rivals as a director.
For starters, “The War Is Over” turns a fundamental aspect of drama (actually, of life) – namely identity – into mystery and trickery, but it does so with tantalizing emotional impact. Call the protagonist (played by Yves Montand) Diego, as he does himself, except when he is called Carlos or Domingo or René or, more often, no name at all. The ruggedly elegant, middle-aged man is Spanish and a longtime underground left-wing activist against Spain’s right-wing dictatorship; he belongs to a militant cell of exiled Spaniards, based in Paris and the surrounding area, which leads and undertakes actions to overthrow the regime. The tense, high-stakes plot takes place over Easter weekend, when Diego is smuggled from Spain to France and travels to Paris to help plan a general strike in Spain. The trip is doubly strained by the fact that Diego knows that several of his fellow militants are missing and that he suspects that the cell’s cover has been blown; the drama is a race against time as Diego tries to warn of an impending crackdown while avoiding capture.
When Diego arrives in Paris, he faces an internal conflict as another member of the group challenges his warning. he faces romantic turmoil as he begins an affair with a young French ally (Geneviève Bujold) while resuming his relationship with his longtime lover (Ingrid Thulin) – and keeping his various fake stories straight with the two n It’s not a question of mere jealousy but of mortal danger. Fascinatingly, he also faces a generational conflict within the broader leftist movement, when he comes into contact with so-called Leninist young Parisians who are more intellectual, more radical and more violent than the Spaniards of middle-aged and their veteran French allies. and the young radicals’ desire for violence adds another layer of tension and danger to the plot.
The screenplay, by Jorge Semprún, goes into fanatical detail about the intricacies of underground resistance. The film opens with Diego being driven to France, under false pretences, by one of the many French sympathizers who are indispensable allies to the cause; it begins in a moment of frenzied suspense, when Diego and his driver, Mr. Jude (Dominique Rozan), have already been allowed to leave Spain but are pushed aside for questioning by the French border police. Diego delivers a fake passport – or rather someone else’s real passport doctored with his photo – and a story to go with it, which the police try to verify in his presence. Diego’s efforts to support the tricks by which he presents his fictional identities make him something of a real-life fiction writer, composing stories that are both plausible in their broad outlines and able to withstand intrusive fact-checking. Diego becomes a virtual computer of the minutiae of other people’s lives – the lives of the people he personifies and their families – and the constant threat of surveillance leads to a paranoid transformation of the trivialities and chance of daily existence into life. -and- death decisions and draws of fate – remembering the right address (or being lucky that the wrong one turns out to be innocuous), giving the right cover to the right person (was he supposed to lie saying that he came from Brussels or Rome, working for the UN or for UNESCO?), decide whether or not to dial a certain telephone number (is a tapped line or a missed contact the greatest risk?).
Resnais delights in the brave ruse of militants; he pays close attention to the details of a top-secret message hidden in a tube of toothpaste, and he details with loving admiration the packaging of banned political leaflets in the chassis and body of a car being prepared for a trip to Spain. He films with genuine admiration and warmth the reunions of longtime comrades, capturing the depth of engagement that drives the cell’s pointed, jargon-filled debates over the nuances of political dogma that underlie potentially deadly missions. , depicts (with allusions to the recently ended Algerian War) the endurance of France’s underground network of intrepid freedom fighters.
Resnais ingeniously amplifies the outward tension of clandestine militancy with several simple and audaciously imaginative cinematic correlates for the frenetic inner life that fuels the composure of Diego’s outward manners. “The War Is Over” enters Diego’s consciousness by refining a familiar technique – voice-over narration, detailing his dilemmas and concerns, observations and considerations, intentions, memories and fears – which is given a audaciously effective twist, rendered in second person. A male voice speaks to Diego internally throughout the action, with a double effect: addressing him as “you” both to put the viewers in his mental space and to evoke the paranoia of the covert surveillance activist, of the authorities who even listen to his mind and know him better than he does. he does it himself. With this premise, Resnais does something even wilder: he punctuates the brisk, tense action with hypotheticals, with images (some of them almost subliminally brief) that reveal the range of speculative fictions on which the calculations depend. rapids of Diego’s chances and possibilities. The images enter Diego’s head, with flashes and forebodings of events – departures, arrivals, arrests, interrogations – that may be happening elsewhere right now or that he may soon be experiencing, a range of possible likenesses of people he plans to meet, places he plans to visit. Seeing a young woman on the train to Paris, he speculates on the identity of another young woman, unknown to him, whose voice on the telephone had saved him from trouble; As he struggles to warn his colleagues of impending danger, he imagines the brutality of their arrests alongside the joy of his potential reunion with them.
For all the overt manipulations of sound and image – and the obsessive, hypnotic, quasi-musical repetitions and reconfigurations of many of the style’s dominant cinematic figures, such as coldly mechanical tracking shots and space-distorting zooms in and out – the “War Is Over”‘s greatest audacity is its delivery of these powerful sophistications of form in the taut, engaging thriller package that it is. Yet this very choice of a genre, and of pure psychological drama, to embody these daring methods, is itself another method, an ostentatious response to the world of cinema that Resnais helped to create and which, in a way, exceeded him. In 1960, less than a year after the release of “Hiroshima Mon Amour”, released Jean-Luc Godard’s first feature film, “A bout de souffle”; it relied on a criminal plot similar to American pulp fiction and film noir to create a cinema at the p an extremely spontaneous first person – and, for Godard, critic and cinephile, his cinemacentrism was itself part of his confessional power. Moreover, it was a cinema of youth, not only because Godard was almost a decade younger than Resnais, but because, with his sense of uninhibited and insolent freedom, he drew on tones, moods and the interests of young viewers. Yet Godard greatly admired Resnais’ meticulous and fanatical sense of form – and their inseparability from Resnais’ approach to political ideas and conflict, memory and history. In the 1964 film, “A Married Woman” – a romantic melodrama about a Parisian woman who has an adulterous affair (and engages in high-stress tricks and evasions to get away with it) – Godard tries daringly abstract methods, and the most visible involve sex (It also includes a scene in which the woman and her lover go to the cinema and watch Resnais’ short “Night and Fog”.)
In “The War Is Over,” Resnais reciprocates—and, in effect, responds to the adaptation of both his methods and his themes that Godard displayed in the blink of an eye in “A Married Woman.” Resnais does it with sex, too: a pair of matching scenes in which Diego has sex with his longtime lover and his new lover are filmed with a sense of geometric and graphic abstraction that makes unambiguous – in fact, blatantly – alluding to similar scenes in Godard’s film. But, unlike Godard, whose story of adultery is only a story of politics by ricochet and implied (and whose sexualized abstractions magnify, at the risk of absurdity, a love story bourgeoise to a grand affair of political conscience), Resnais draws on these scenes to add another level of intrigue and psychological complication to a story of political conscience and political action.