Knowing and Not Knowing, Moving and Not Moving, in Alain Resnais’s L’Année dernière à Marienbad (1961)

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According to film theorist and critic André Bazin, photography “derives an advantage” from its mechanical aspect: the process through which each object gives form to its own representation. In that way, photographs and other indexical media, including films, bridge past and present and have uncanny power. In Alain Resnais’s film L’Année dernière à Marienbad (1961), photography is of special interest because of how those aspects relate to trauma. Confronting a photograph of herself traumatizes the principal female character, blurring the distinction between memory and perception and locating her not in uncertainty but at the intersection of knowing and not knowing. In a related way, editing and blocking haunt Marienbad by making evident the filmic paradox of moving and not moving. Forms of the human body are graphically matched across cuts in which other visual elements change, and performers stage the time freeze effect by holding their positions like statues or as if frozen. In those ways, the body develops a reputation for stability and coherence usually reserved for filmic space but here denied to it. Through such devices, and with an eye to transforming cinema, Resnais tested the relationship among representation, history, and the human body, an exploration sustained throughout his early films. In Marienbad, the two paradoxes pertinent to that interest — knowing and not knowing, moving and not moving — overlap in the iconic shot near the film’s midpoint, in which the camera advances to reveal nine figures standing in the “empty” axis of a French-style garden and arranged enigmatically following a paragon of Japanese garden design: the meditation garden at Ryoan-ji, an important Zen temple in Kyoto, Japan.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Issue number19
StatePublished - 2018


  • photography
  • time freeze effect
  • human body
  • History
  • indexicality
  • memory
  • cinema
  • trauma


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