Thursday, March 10, 2011

Emphasis on the Last Syllable

Film: L’Annee Derniere a Marienbad (Last Year at Marienbad)
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on kick-ass portable DVD player.

[Author’s note: For slightly more than 14 months, I have kept this blog rated PG-13. I have toned down my normally obscene self and kept the swearing to a minimum. I knew that someday I would come across a film that pulled my naturally profane nature to the surface. I didn’t know when it would happen; I only knew it would. Well, today I discovered the film that brought me at least temporarily out of my swearing shell.]

Years ago, my brother Tom had a book called “The 50 Worst Films of All Time.” Naturally, a book like that was going to be wrong on virtually every count; there are certainly at least 50 films worse than every film included in that book (proof? It didn’t include Manos: The Hands of Fate). But it was a fun book to flip through. Imagine my surprise to see at least four films from that book on The List: Zabriskie Point, Ivan the Terrible, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, and today’s entry, L’Annee Derniere a Marienbad (Last Year at Marienbad).

This is the first of these films that appear as both must-see and wretchedly bad that I have encountered thus far. Since its initial opening, Marienbad has received a number of positive reviews. It has a divided reaction from its viewing public. There are those who find it filled with meaning and great possibility (Roger Ebert, for one), and those who find it to be 95 minutes of smelling its own exhaust and applauding itself. I was curious to see which camp I’d fall into.

Well, now I know.

Marienbad is not the worst movie I have ever seen. It probably doesn’t rank in the bottom 100 of films I have seen in my lifetime, and that’s even if I don’t include what I watched on Mystery Science Theater 3000. It is, though, the most pretentious, filled with itself, navel-gazing piece of shit I have ever encountered. This movie is so filled with its own artistic pretense that it farts Picassos in waltz time.

Here’s what you get: we have three main characters and a bunch of other people wearing fancy clothes and standing around like J.C. Penney mannequins. Our first character is A (Delphine Seyrig, who pissed me off last year by starring in Jeanne Dielmann). A is nothing more than an attractive, sometimes mobile thing to hang slinky dresses and feathery dressing gowns on. She’s in a gigantic hotel with M (Sacha Pitoeff), her skull-faced maybe-husband. While they are supposed to be relaxing, what they really do is go to an occasional show, stand around, and stare at things. Also at the hotel is X (Giorgio Albertazzi), who claims to have had a passionate affair with A the previous year. It might have been at Marienbad. Or it might not have happened. Or something. Anyway, he spends the whole movie trying to convince her that they are madly in love with each other. She has no memory of this, because evidently in addition to being someone who moves exclusively in slow motion, she’s also a fucking amnesiac.

That might actually be interesting if the film had done anything with it. Instead, virtually the entire film consists of three things. First, X walks down the endless corridors and hallways of the giant, Cleveland-sized hotel and narrates it. When I say he narrates, what I mean is that he says the same thing over and over about corridors and empty rooms and walls and more corridors and rooms and doors and statues and people and things and air and fucking molecules and Jell-o pudding pops and fruit bats and…

Sorry. He doesn’t talk about fruit bats or Jell-o. Or air molecules.

Second, X talks to A in the second person, telling her all about what they did the previous year at another giant hotel with big fuckin’ statues that are possibly the same statues at this hotel or maybe not because maybe it never happened, and she certainly doesn’t have any memory of it. Regardless, he tells her all about her room there in great detail, and what she wore, and what they talked about (mostly the statues), and everything else. When he gets done with one of these monologues, she usually says that she doesn’t remember and that she’d like him to leave her alone, which he never does. Also during these scenes, we frequently change locations between sentences, and almost as frequently change times of day. Night time, day time, night time, lunch time, morning, night. These time changes do not appear to matter to the flow of the conversation.

Third, X and M play Nim. M always wins. Always.

That’s it. There’s 95 minutes of people standing next to each other, looking in opposite directions, and not moving while one of them talks about what they may have done or not done together or alone at a similar hotel that might have been this one or was possibly Marienbad when they were or weren’t there the year before.


I hated this film with the sort of passion I typically reserve for televangelists, people who interrupt constantly, and those motherfuckers who don’t use their turn signals. I want to punch everyone involved with this film. I want to punch this film in the celluloid equivalent of its uterus and/or testicles. I want to gender-neutralize it so that it cannot procreate and fill the world with its incomprehensible little art babies. It makes me feel like the narrator in Fight Club when he says he wanted to kill every panda that wouldn’t fuck to save its species. I want to let the original negatives rot and I want to film this happening, because that will be more interesting than this film.

I don’t mind art films. I genuinely don’t. Sometimes, they’re a lot of fun or at least have something interesting to say. This film was as fun and interesting as picking lint from my asscrack. Fuck this movie, fuck the people in it, and fuck Alain Resnais. I hold this film specifically responsible for why Americans think French people are snooty bastards and for why the French think Americans are incestuous, brainless primate sphincters.

50 Worst Films of All Time? Probably not. 50 Films I’d Like to Throat Punch and then Watch Drown in its Own Vomit? Top of the list, baby. Top of the list.

Why to watch L’Annee Derniere a Marienbad: With so many possible interpretations, it’s like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book.
Why not to watch: The adventure sucks.


  1. And yet your review now makes me want to watch the film.

  2. Just watched this YouTube video. The narration at approx 2:10 says pretty much what you said: it's a "Choose Your Own Adventure" scenario:

    "Pour la première fois au cinéma, vous serez le co-auteur d'un film: à partir des images que vous verrez vous ferez vous-même l'histoire d'après votre sensibilité, votre caractère, votre humeur, votre vie passée..."

    My quick translation:

    "For the first time in movies, you will be the co-author of a film: from the images that you will see, you yourself will create the story according to your sensibilities, your character, your mood, the life you've lived..."

  3. WOW!

    I can't wait to hear what you say about "Wavelength" and "Dog Star Man". It is definitely not the worst movie committed to film (have you seen "The Room" yet)but it certainly does leave you wondering WHY? Personally, after seeing "LYAM" I was wandered through the museum (I viewed it as part of a French New Wave exhibit at FtWorth Modern Art Museum)trying to decide if anything I saw was worth looking at, much less exhibiting through future decades. Then I weighed in some of the things, the confusing story, the baroque hotel setting, which must have been breath taking in color, but presented for your enjoyment in black & white, the inanimate background cast, the too close for comfort close-ups. If you were to graft Dali's "Persistance of Memory", with Bunuel's "Un Chien Andalou" and Lynch's "Mulholland Drive" (I actually think Lynch may have been influenced by Resnais so this could make him his own grandpa) you might end up with a spawn like "LYAM". I ended up liking it. Does it belong in "The Book"? When they edit the new edition and they need a couple of spaces for something that came out this year (maybe "Black Swan" and "Rango" >snicker<)they can take out "Last Year at Marienbad" and "Hold Me While I'm Naked" in one fell swoop.

    My wife, loved it. Never mind the story, her love was based on the fashion.

  4. You had me a "fruit bats or Jell-o" :) I must be a glutton for punishment, because after reading your review, I really do want to watch this movie. I'd much rather watch a movie that can incite this kind of passion than something which is utterly unforgettable.

  5. I must admit - I am looking forward to watching this movie as well myself due to the reaction it is getting!

    I've already knocked out a couple of the "bad" movies mentioned above - Zabriskie Point and Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. I think Eraserhead is the only movie so far that I considered a complete waste of time.

  6. Hey, you (Klaus and Colby) may well find something here that I didn't see. I do see how this film could be open to a variety of interpretations, many of which are quite interesting. For me, it didn't go far enough.

    I think it's telling when the Criterion DVD misspells the director's name on the front cover ("Resnais" is spelled "Reanais," which sounds like a combination of renal failure and mayonnaise).

    If nothing else, I won't forget watching this one.

    @Ken--if we always agreed, this would be a dull enterprise. I see how someone can find value in this, but for me, there just wasn't enough "there" there.

    1. This one completely fell off my radar, and I only rediscovered it this past week, and finally got around to watching it (almost 5 years later!)

      Notwithstanding my original comment, i'd rather forget about my time watching Marienbad.

    2. You and me both, except that I like having something that I hate this passionately.

    3. 6 years later and I'm finally watching this. Just brutal....

  7. Forgot this--also @Ken: I just checked out a copy of Dog Star Man, so look for something in the next week.

  8. After a sentence describing Renal failure and mayonnaise, I may never eat tuna salad again...

  9. I had a similar reaction to Last Year, though not quite as virulent. What's funny to me about your review, is I too first heard of this film by the same book you metioned (the one co-authored by future conservative commentator Michael Medved). I've also searched for others on the 1001 list that are also on the 50 worst film list and it seems you found them all. I'd be interested to see your opinion on Hiroshima, Mon Amour if you haven't already seen it. It's definitely a more palatable Alain Resanis film to me.

  10. I did like Hiroshima Mon Amour a lot more than this one. That film was pretty--this one was just obtuse.

  11. I actually agree with most of what you say, but still cannot help being very fascinated by this pretentious, hypercerebral collection of fragments posturing as a movie.

    Have you seen the music video for the Blur song »To the end«?:

  12. I hadn't seen the Blur video, which is a bit strange because I really like Blur--especially their older stuff. But I like Pulp better.

    I'm going to choose that Blur is poking fun rather than paying homage. Your mileage may vary.

  13. Where to begin, Bubs?

    a. I loved that book.

    b. I've never seen the movie, but, honestly, how can you not want to?

    c. I probably love Blur more than I love Pulp, but there are certain Suede songs I love more than any of them. And I do love me some Jarvis Cocker. And Gorillaz. And, speaking of Britpop, the new Elbow is fucking good.

    d. It's funny when you swear.


  14. Yeah, I can see a sort of perverse pleasure in wanting to see something that caused such a violent reaction. In reversed roles, I'd say the same thing, I think.

    I still think This is Hardcore is one of the great albums of the last 20 years for what that's worth.

    As for the swearing...don't tell Mom.

  15. One of my top 100 films of all time. Endlessly fascinating and layered, every time you think you've got hold on it, it slips away from you. And a damn beautiful movie to boot.

    Anyone putting LYAM (or Ivan the Terrible for that matter, or Zabriskie Point) in a book titled "The 50 Worst Films of All Time" is just a smug jerk looking to push buttons. Yes, we get it, you go against the grain. You free-thinking rebel, you.

    1. Quite frankly, I don't care. I mean that sincerely. I don't care that it's one of your top 100 films of all time. The fact that you like it and find it meaningful doesn't mean that I have to, or should. I found it pointless and stupid, and I stand by that. Sorry that a genuine difference of opinion offends you.

      And for point of fact, I didn't put this film or any other in a book. Someone else did. My brother Tom had a copy of it. I just read it.

      The entire point of this blog, or of a movie review/criticism in its purest form, is to express not only an opinion of whether or not a film is good or bad, but also to define why the critic feels that way. It's not to get you to think the way I do, but to help you see why I think the way I do about it.

      Calling me a "free-thinking rebel" is, obviously, intended as a slight or a comment on my taste as a film viewer or skill as a critic. It's a cheap shot and dirty pool, and says more about you than it does about me.

      There are other blogs you can read, Martin. I'd suggest you read those instead.

    2. Apparently my meaning has been misconstrued. I know you didn't write the book. I didn't say you did, but I can see that I wasn't clear enough. The second paragraph of my post was addressing the author of the book (indirectly, of course, unless he happens to be reading this). I didn't mean for you to think I was addressing you or your review. You clearly stated the film ISN'T in your worst of all time. Sorry for the confusion and unintended offense.

    3. While I have no idea why you'd address Michael Medved and others on my blog, I'll take that as written.

  16. While I didn't hate LYAM, this review was far more entertaining than the actual movie, possessing all the passion its characters lacked.

    The technical aspects of the filming and editing intrigued me, but everything else was beyond repetitive. At the end I was left thinking, 'Uh-huh, and ... that's it!?'

    1. I've determined that one of the central features of a trio of films that I really, really hate is Delphine Seyrig. I now blame her entirely.

  17. That is a fantastic review, Steve!
    I understand that pretentious style does not go down well with you. well, I do not blame you, this was super pretentious.
    Nice to hear about your taste in music. In 94 I spent a month travelling through Europe with a singe tape in my walkman, Leisure on one side and The Queen is Dead on the other an that made me a Blur and Smith fan. Back then in the nineties I went to a lot of music festivals and saw practically everything, but never got to see Morrisey.

    1. I've never really gotten into the Smiths. Pulp, though, is absolutely worth your time. If you can dig up a copy of This is Hardcore (which you can probably find on YouTube), it's still an album I think is great pretty much all the way through.

      Grandaddy is good, too.

  18. I will admit, this is one of my favorite films of all time but I can't deny that your review is hilarious as hell. Love the comedic and hard hitting aspects of your review! It's a shame you didn't like Delphine Seyrig while I fell in love with her (But I also hate her in India Song!) It's really nice that someone is bold enough to write reviews for famous movies that they hate because it gives me a different perspective on the film. Once again, it's still one of my favorite films of all time but I had one hell of a time reading this review! Love it!!! :)

    1. Oh, I hated India Song so, so much.

      I'm happy for people to disagree with me on this blog--it's all about the discussion here. And I realize that this is a polarizing film--it has a lot of people who love it and a lot of detractors as well.