Last Year at Marienbad
Alain Resnais’ 1961 narrative game changer Last Year at Marienbad takes place in a ghostly upper-class resort filled with “ornamentation of a bygone era.” The hotel’s human inhabitants are also ornamentation, wandering aimlessly through the halls, holding nonsensical conversations and taking up space like tchotchkes. This zombie atmosphere is pierced when a tuxedoed gentleman tries to convince an oblivious, resistant woman that they’re illicit lovers. Resnais shows a series of inscrutable moments that may or may not be imaginary, and asks the audience fill in the blanks; it’s like a choose-your-own-adventure film, minus any possibility of choosing adventure. It’s ultimately a shallow, cerebral gimmick, unlike Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel (released the following year), which kept brilliantly building on the surreal, cinematic and satiric possibilities of a clueless bourgeoisie trapped in their palatial estate.