The beautifully rendered Hiroshima, Mon Amour, directed by Alain Resnais, screenplay by Marguerite Duras, is a 1959 French film which, along with Truffaut’s 400 Blows and Godard’s Breathless ushered in French New Wave film. It is dreamily (without sequential time or cause and effect) shot and its script is poetical with its repetition of phrases. Beautiful and moving to any viewer, it may be especially so for the contemporary psychoanalyst in the way it speaks to the power of the witnessing of trauma.
We never know from the film, nor hear, the names of the two protagonists. Elle (Emmanuele Riva), a French actress (in Hiroshima to shoot a film about peace), suffered the loss of her wartime, German lover, then was ostracized by the residents of her hometown Nevers for this love; and Lui (Eiji Okuda), a Japanese architect, lost his entire family of origin and his hometown on August 6, 1945. Their personal traumas have for their backdrop the trauma of nations.
Opening the film, the two lovers entwined, the ashes of nuclear devastation on their skin transforming into perspiration, Lui responds to Elle’s narrative, telling her: you “remember nothing.” (For how could she possibly remember Hiroshima?) Later in the film, Lui says to Elle, “Tell me more.” And he is jubilant [reminiscent of the therapist’s privilege] that he is the only one who has ever heard her story. Elle’s later, second narrative includes, “One day, I’ll remember nothing,” [i.e. will be haunted no longer]. Only then does she consider returning to Nevers [facing the unknowable]. The peace march of the film within the film foreshadows Elle’s leaning toward healing. She finds Lui (He tells her that she gives him “a tremendous desire to love”) and re-finds “impossible love”. This time she does not have to bear it alone. Therapy, likewise, is not so much the ‘impossible profession’ as an ‘impossible love.’
Hiroshima, Mon Amour, shown April 3, 2001, was the ultimate film in the 2010-11 Film Series Developing Passions, cosponsored by the Tampa Bay Psychoanalytic Society, Inc and the Humanities Institute at the University of South Florida. The discussants were USF Humanities Associate Professor, Amy Rust, and local Freudian analyst, Michael Poff. Rust, in elaborating French New Wave films, also explicated components of contemporary psychoanalysis: The story [content] is subordinate to style [way of relating]; There is no omniscient viewer; Ambiguity is embraced; Subjective reality is privileged and the social history of the bombing of Hiroshima turns into the personal history of Elle and of Lui, and each’s interpretation of the world is negotiated alongside historic events.
Poff, too, saw the healing themes both between two persons (Elle and Lui) and two peoples (social historical context), but interpreted the film as “a failed attempt to resolve old trauma” referring to the Oedipus complex (both Elle and Lui deceive their respective spouses with this brief affair) and to transference, Elle’s putting of the past relationship (with the German soldier) onto the present one (with Lui), and to reconstruction (Freud)of the past. [Instead, I delighted in Lui’s capacity to ‘play’ (ala Winnicott) in the space between himself and Elle, wearing the attributions of her dead lover as part of the witnessing, and healing in relationship, which Elle requires. I found it a beautiful example, not of reconstruction, but of co-construction.]