Essential Film: Hiroshima Mon Amour

Essential Film Hiroshima Mon Amour


Director: Alain Resnais

Released: 1959

By Paul Rodger

“Sad little romance, I will forget you”: the singular message that transcended the GFT’s screening of the 1959 French-Japanese classic Hiroshima Mon Amour.

Directed by Alain Resnais and starring Emmanuelle Riva and Eiji Okada in the lead roles, the film tells the story of a female actress, Elle (Riva), who has an affair with a married Japanese architect, named Lui (Okada), while shooting a film about peace in the titular city. Set amidst the aftermath of the end of WWII and a newly rebuilt Hiroshima, following the devastation of the atomic bombings, the city plays out as a curiously apt location for the fledgling, yet turbulent, romance. As the pair begin to discuss their lives and experiences, their outlooks on life begin to unravel. When asked by Liu what the end of the war meant to her, Elle replies: “for me, the start of a new unknown fear.”


Initially posing as the confident, seemingly manipulative sweetheart, the narrative begins to reveal a more unsettled and insecure side to her character. After following Elle from her hotel and meeting her at the end of her filming on the movie set, Lui comments: “Films about peace in Hiroshima never go down well”. Under their clean appearances and seemingly established, and stable lives, their mutual antagonisms are laid bare. Elle reveals to Lui that during her adolescent years growing up in Nevers, France she was condemned to live in her basement following her secret relationship with a German soldier – an act known during the period as ‘collaboration horizontale’. She describes how after his death, she went mad and had her hair shaved off as a symbol of shame. Implicitly drawing similarities with the fall out from the atomic bombs, as well as hair loss being one, more intriguingly is her continual reluctance to commit to Lui – albeit her fornications with him and deep confiding in him surrounding her problematic past.


This defiance could well be seen to reflect the infertility caused by radiation from the explosions, as Elle’s seemingly neutered desires hamper their engagements together. Having continually pursued her, Liu begins to realize and accept that the woman he has fallen for can’t requite his advances and efforts, resulting in their mutual acknowledgement that their experiences together are fleeting and can’t be sustained. Shortly before departing, Elle and Lui meet one last time, with them both acknowledging each other as Nevers and Hiroshima respectively, and repeating, “I will forget you”. A poignant and cathartic watch, Hiroshima Mon Amour unconventionally explores the cold, yet unusually consoling realities of incompatibility, and unrequited desire.document.currentScript.parentNode.insertBefore(s, document.currentScript);