Credentials aside, Last Year at Marienbad is an elegant whirlpool, all the more notable for being made amid the fuck-all bluster of the early French new wave. At a sodden grand hotel, "X" (Giorgio Albertazzi) implores "A" (Delphine Seyrig) that they met the previous year and agreed to reconvene away from the watchful eye of A's husband "M" (Sacha Pitoëff). Some of the aspects surrounding these characters seem hopelessly musty, encrusted by decades of swollen undergraduate debate. There is the flattening score, and the famous strategy game that M always wins. Try not to giggle at those scenes in which a character's bulging eyes conjure so many Universal B-movies — indeed, Pitoëff seems to have been cast for his gaunt shape, evocative as it is of Karloffs and Lugosis past.
And yet, Marienbad's distancing front-line of attack remains a radical proposition: erotic obsession defanged of the eros, and further soused in sounds and images that seem, if not deceitful, then at least unverifiable. At the center of this opaque sphere is Seyrig who, as A, has the unenviable task of making something of being more than a marionette. The film is most symphonic — and terrifying — in those moments when Resnais' camera movements collude with Albertazzi's direct address, simultaneously conjecturing and ensnaring the imagined A.
Marienbad's chilly core endures despite the extent to which its formalist shock tactics have been assimilated into mainstream productions. In stretching cinematic space-time like so much chewing gum, the film provides a direct link between Louis Feuillade's shape-shifting serials (1913's Fantômas, 1915's Les Vampires), Stanley Kubrick's gliding horror (1980's The Shining, in particular) and latter-day brainteasers like Memento (2000), Being John Malkovich and The Matrix (both 1999). If this is Resnais' unexpected lineage, Seyrig's A keeps a different company. She's still lost in Marienbad's hall-of-mirrors (the last line, like a curse: "Losing your way in the still night, alone with me"). But while there, she might catch a reflection of some kindred spirits: Kim Novak, of course, but also Rita Hayworth, Laura Dern, and least suspecting of them all, Rose in Joseph Cornell's Rose Hobart (1936). (Max Goldberg)
LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD
Through March 27
Opens Fri/21; $7–$9.50
429 Castro, SF