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The Criterion Collection presents
Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959)

"The whole world rejoiced, and you rejoiced with it."
- Japanese architect (Eiji Okada)

Review By: Dan Heaton  
Published: August 03, 2003

Stars: Emanuelle Riva, Eiji Okado
Other Stars: Stella Dassas, Pierre Barbaud, Bernard Fresson
Director: Alain Resnais

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (contains graphic images of war violence)
Run Time: 01h:30m:06s
Release Date: June 24, 2003
UPC: 037429180723
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- AB+A- A

DVD Review

I visited Hiroshima on September 10, 2001 and am stunned by the continuous effect of the experience. History books cannot accurately describe the true horror inflicted on this city's people during and following the atom bomb explosions. The Peace Memorial Museum does not exist to condemn the United States, but it goes much further in calling for peace among all nations. The photographs, exhibits, and personal recollections from survivors of the catastrophe still haunt me. The recent discussions concerning the validity of war in Afghanistan and Iraq make the Hiroshima images even more relevant. How can we slaughter innocent people while claiming to seek peace? This event from more than 50 years ago reminds us of this extremely difficult and frustrating dilemma.

French director Alain Resnais opens Hiroshima Mon Amour with 15 minutes containing numerous shots of the museum's exhibits and saddening destruction. This sequence combines these images with shots of a French woman (Emmanuelle Riva) and her Japanese lover (Eiji Okada) in bed. She claims to understand the Hiroshima bombing and aftermath, but he responds by telling her she knows nothing. In a sense, therefore, all of us cannot understand the event because we were not there to see it happen. The opening scenes include shots from Kaneto Shindo's Children of Hiroshima that effectively draw us into the unbelievable destruction wrought by the atomic bomb. Many are difficult to watch and comprehend, but Resnais shows them unflinchingly. The antiwar stance here is clear, and its support will increase with a more personal story that dominates the time-shifting narrative.

The beginning moments act similar to a 15-minute documentary on Hiroshima, but the story quickly shifts gears into an intimate tale. The two lovers are not given names and stand more as avenues towards a particular message. This is especially true of the French woman, whose tragic past dominates the story's majority. She has arrived in Hiroshima to play a role in an international peace film, and plans to return to Paris the next day. When the lovers meet again and he pleads for her to stay, we slowly discover her previous difficulties during World War II. Her first love in Nevers, France was a German officer who met a sad end before the war's completion. As a young girl, she never fully recovered from this moment, and it still haunts her many years later. Even now happily married in Paris, the woman can never fully excise this memory from her consciousness. In fact, both lead characters enjoy positive family lives apart from this affair.

Originally envisioned as a documentary, the story veered towards a fictional vein through the ideas of novelist Marguerite Duras, who penned the literary screenplay. The tale remains focused on the two characters and their deep conversations about life. Shot on location in Hiroshima and Nevers, the film maintains an aura of realism and rarely delves into emotional silliness. Even during the woman's emotional crisis following her German lover's death, the actions feel believable and remain distressing. This role is Riva's first and depicts an actress unafraid of baring her soul on the screen. Okada was chosen largely due to his features not looking too Japanese. Given the basic plot, it becomes surprising when their cultural differences rarely come into play. This is not a love story blocked by ethnic boundaries.

Hiroshima Mon Amour is also noteworthy for its "fugitive intrusion" editing—an innovate device in 1959 that quickly showcases other events by quickly cross-cutting them into the scene. While Riva views her lover sprawled out on the bed, violent images of her first love intrude into her mind. This film is very deliberately paced and will not provide interest for many audiences. The conversations do sometimes lag during the middle portion, which could lose some viewers. However, Duras and Resnais deserve very high marks for conveying difficult subject matter in such intriguing terms. More than 40 years after its initial release, this picture still offers potent images that remain poignant to our current situation.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Hiroshima Mon Amour utilizes a new, impressive 1.33:1 full-frame transfer that has been enhanced considerably from its original quality. The black-and-white exterior images shine brightly and enhance the tale's impact. It almost certainly could not have been helped, but a significant amount of minor defects do appear during the presentation. These only detract slightly from the viewing, and Criterion has once again done a top-notch job.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The original French mono transfer has been restored considerably and lacks the hissing and other flaws often associated with older tracks. The sounds are generally powerful, which helps the intriguing score from Giovanni Fusco. Obviously, the complexity of this type of audio is limited, but it's mostly unnoticeable given the age of the original transfer.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Isolated Music Score with remote access
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Film scholar Peter Cowie
Packaging: unmarked keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Alain Resnais interviews
  2. Emmanuelle Riva interviews
  3. Screenplay annotations by writer Marguerite Duras
Extras Review: This disc does not contain the abundant number of extras often associated with Criterion releases, but the features included all provide compelling information. Film historian Peter Cowie gives one of the best commentaries from an outsider in recent memory. He possesses an incredible knowledge of both film and actual history, which helps to greatly enhance our understanding of the picture. Few breaks exist during the track, and Cowie covers virtually all of the film's key elements.

Also intriguing are multiple interviews with director Alain Resnais and actor Emanuelle Riva, which appear from several time periods. He speaks first with François Chalais on the 1961 French television program Cinepanorama. This conversation runs for about five minutes and covers elements of Resnais' early career and his place in French cinema. The second inclusion is an 11-minute audio interview with Le Cinema des Cineastes in 1980 that specifically addresses the making of Hiroshima Mon Amour. Riva provides mostly plot summary during a six-minute 1959 interview with François Chalais at the Cannes Film Festival. Luckily, Criterion has also provided a nearly 20-minute conversation recorded this year with Riva. This lengthy discussion covers many aspects and nicely summarizes her feelings during that time.

The final disc supplement is an eight-minute collection of film scenes accompanied by annotated script notes from writer Marguerite Duras. Laylaye Courie reads her statements and helps us to understand the author's mindset. If these extras weren't enough, the packaging also includes a Criterion staple—a remarkable 32-page text booklet of essays, interviews, and additional features.

Extras Grade: A


Final Comments

It may seem a bit odd that a 44-year-old French film can still provide us with an important cultural message, but this is definitely the case. Hiroshima Mon Amour may not work completely as a love story, but it does succeed by presenting the personal effects of war on individuals. Hiroshima today is a bustling metropolis and doing very well, but it basically started over in 1945. By showcasing this city and a woman devastated by her past loss, Resnais and Duras have created a forceful anti-war statement.


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