Hiroshima mon amour (1959) isn't so much about a passionate one night stand as the ideas behind it. Written by Marguerite Duras, Elle is a French woman in Hiroshima shooting a film about peace. We first meet her describing the museum she saw of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima to Lui, a Japanese man who speaks good French. We hear Elle speak over pictures, newsreel, and reenactments of that day, while all we see of her is her hand on Lui's bare back. This first conversation sets up the important themes of the film: how do you remember events and how do you really know events if you weren't there?
And really, the film is just a series of conversations, the location just changes. Elle and Lui (I believe their names are only used in the credits) talk about their pasts mostly, their present circumstances only hinted at. And the bulk of the the reminiscences are from Elle's mind. She talks about WWII, her love with a German soldier, and the ensuing fallout. We see flashbacks of her in her youth cut into shots of her haunting face as she relives her past.
The film is both more alienating and more engrossing than I'm describing it. It's a strange film about forgetting and the damage that can happen when you do forget important parts of the past. It's about two brief lovers who start forgetting each other even as they say good-bye. It's as specific as it is anonymous. The action is minimal, but the lighting, the use of hands, and the faces of the lead actors--especially Emmanuelle Riva --carry a depth of painful nostalgia. Alain Resnais uses cinema creatively to give the film both a documentary and fictional feel, giving Elle the task of both hearing a story and telling one. We realize that she doesn't really understand Hiroshima just as we don't really understand her story. This certainly isn't an easy film, but it's one that causes you to reflect about what it means to forget and what it means to remember through someone else's eyes.