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  Je t'aime je t'aime Love HangoverBuy this film here.
Year: 1968
Director: Alain Resnais
Stars: Claude Rich, Olga Georges-Picot, Anouk Ferjac, Alain McMoy, Vania Vilers, Ray Verhaeghe, Van Doude, Yves Kerboul, Dominique Rozan, Annie Bertin, Jean Michaud, Claire Duhamel, Bernard Fresson, Sylvaine Dhomme, Irène Tunc, Alan Adair, Gérard Lonin
Genre: Science Fiction, Romance
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Claude Ridder (Claude Rich) has recently made an attempt on his own life, and as he recuperates some scientists have taken an interest in him. They are conducting an experiment that they wish to recruit a guinea pig for; they have used a mouse with limited success, but really need a subject who can answer their questions about what their experience was like. Two of them are sent to intercept Claude as he leaves hospital, and ask him to come with them. He is intrigued, and not having anything better to do he complies whereupon he is escorted to a large mansion out in the country and given the lowdown...

The experiment is all to do with time, a common preoccupation of director Alain Resnais, and the beginning of one of his examinations of how the past can be unforgiving should you end up lost in it, which is precisely what happens to Claude. As we are filled on his background through the flashbacks we build up a picture of what brought him to his suicide attempt, yet the nature of time is so slippery that we can never be one hundred percent sure what is really going on and if what we are watching is a tragic story of loss or one of crushing guilt and sinister machinations. Arriving the same year as Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, this proved to be equally mindbending.

Not that Resnais indulged himself with a festival of special effects, as aside from the old trick of stopping the camera and restarting it to look as if someone has disappeared there were really none. This did not indicate the director was eschewing the outré in his visuals, as while there was a plain, oddly matter of fact quality to much of what we saw, there remained instances of Claude's memories warping and offering glimpses of a woman taking a bath in an office, a man with the head of The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and another inside a telephone booth which has filled with water. With a plot like this, surrealism was evidently difficult to resist, but it wasn't the be all and end all.

Actually, Je t'aime je t'aime had influenced a cult movie of later vintage in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and you could well see its influence on Michel Gondry's work there, most blatantly in the manner of love being the chief concern of the narrative, though not in a romantic fashion. Here it was more like a curse, for Claude's attachment to his girlfriend Catrine (Olga Georges-Picot) proves to be his undoing, though the exact reason for that is unclear at the beginning, and by the end you may still be baffled. She is out of his life, that's certain, but is it because they split up, or did she contract a terminal disease, or more worryingly did Claude try to end it all because he couldn't live with the knowledge he had murdered her? As we are subjected to a barrage of clips, we can never know for sure.

And by the end, he's none too convinced himself, but we are left with a vision of love that suggests it's a burden which could be bittersweet, yet also all-consuming that will at best distract you, or at worst consign you to madness. Claude seems like a level-headed chap at first in spite of his recent actions, cynical maybe but that's to be expected, however once he enters the scientists' womb-like time machine (his only companion that intrepid mouse) his memories overwhelm him and he becomes trapped in his past, a state Resnais broadly hints could happen to any one of us without the aid of a time machine. Every happy reminiscence Claude has is tempered by the knowledge of how things ended up, and so his darker deeds and thoughts, the heartache he has suffered and the terrible things he recalls, begin to overtake him, sending him forward to that suicide attempt once again. But was Je t'aime je t'aime all bleak pessimism, or was it encouraging us to accept life's slings and arrows? That's where its obscurity fails it. Music by Krzysztof Penderecki.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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