Similar to Hiroshima Mon Amour and Last Year at Maridenbad in some regards (meditating on memory, a playful deconstruction of traditional plot and character motivations)—Muriel, of the Time of Return makes the tragic mistake, immeasurably unlike Resnais first two films (this being his third), of being visually unbeautiful and flat
Resnais’ third feature fiction film—first in color. There’s no real achievement here in color. I’m not sure the reason for the decision. This is also a disappointment given the work other great auteurs were doing in the era like Antonioni in Red Desert in 1964 and Contempt from New Wave- brethren in 1963
A strong opening as Resnais uses his trademark jump cut around Delphine Seyrig’s antiques in her apartment. He splices them in. The antiques are perfect for the themes here- the past
There’s a few really special stylistic sequences early on—Resnais’ jump cuts act as almost Ozu-like pillow shots shuttering rapidly in the middle of the scene. It isn’t poetry like Ozu—it is jarring, metanarrative, fourth-wall breaking—playful and fragmentary. Sadly, Resnais makes the mistake of not repeating this often and developing it. There’s no theme and variation.
At the 10 minute make the characters are talking about the city during the way and then there’s this montage of memorial landmarks in the middle of the scene. Stream-of-consciousness— memory, war, trauma
Each jump cut is a comment – a choice
About regret, a past love, without the strong editing—Resnais is almost daring the viewer to watch this film of awkward and purposefully unfulfilling conversations
Characters are very contradictory
At 53 minutes Resnais tells the story of the four character in montage fragments. There are three of these overall
Like his landmark debut, Hiroshima Mon Amour, it feature the horrific past of war (here in the form of former soldier Jean-Baptiste Thiérrée’s character). Torture, a story told with voice-over and these home videos (the story is horrific but the visuals are of good times and soldiers smiling—a comment by Resnais)
Another nod to Hitchcock- a bit of an easter egg- Hitchcock look-alike in a chef hat (he was in cutoff form in Last Year at Marienbad
Opaque – — a challenge— tough to grab onto – we go off on tangents like one character dealing with a gambling addition, another debt and loan sharks, the elusiveness of title character (there are a couple people mentioned with the name but the main being Jean-Baptiste Thiérrée’s girlfriend who we don’t really see) is that in microcosm – Resnais sets out to prove this is about deconstruction and the film acts as antithesis to tradition film and narrative but unlike Marienbad there isn’t artistry to admire throughout.
Comic thumbing his nose at the narrative with the “have you found a mate for my nanny goat?” joke
Great review here. I just watched it for the second time and I mostly agree with you. I think highly of Hiroshima Mon Amour and Last Year at Marienbad and Muriel has a lot in common thematically but is just few levels below visually. I like how you used the word “unbeautiful” lol. Yeah… it’s ugly. Shame because the narrative is clever.
I see a lot of praise in general for Resnais’ editing here but it feels very forced to me, especially that montage at the beginning of the film. I get what he is doing with it storytelling wise, but I’m not impressed with the execution. It looks almost amateurish.
@Chief Keef– thanks for sharing your thoughts– yes– sounds like we’re mostly on the same page here
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