Last Year at Marienbad

L'Année dernière à Marienbad (released in the US as Last Year at Marienbad and in the UK as Last Year in Marienbad) is a 1961 French-Italian Left Bank film directed by Alain Resnais from a screenplay by Alain Robbe-Grillet.[lower-alpha 1]

Last Year at Marienbad
Theatrical film poster
Directed byAlain Resnais
Produced byPierre Courau
Raymond Froment
Robert Dorfmann
Anatole Dauman
Written byAlain Robbe-Grillet
StarringDelphine Seyrig
Giorgio Albertazzi
Sacha Pitoëff
Music byFrancis Seyrig
CinematographySacha Vierny
Edited byJasmine Chasney
Henri Colpi
Distributed byCocinor
Release date
  • 25 June 1961 (1961-06-25)
Running time
94 minutes

Set in a palace in a park that has been converted into a luxury hotel, it stars Delphine Seyrig and Giorgio Albertazzi as a woman and a man who may have met the year before and may have contemplated or started an affair, with Sacha Pitoëff as a second man who may be the woman's husband. The characters are unnamed.

The film is famous for its enigmatic narrative structure, in which time and space are fluid, with no certainty over what is happening to the characters, what they are remembering, and what they are imagining. Its dreamlike nature has both fascinated and baffled viewers; many have hailed the work as a masterpiece, although others have found it incomprehensible.


In an ornate baroque hotel, populated by wealthy couples who socialise with each other, a single man approaches a woman. He claims they met the year before at Marienbad and she asked him to wait a year before deciding on a future together. The woman insists they have never met. The man tries to rekindle what he claims is the tenderness they shared, while she rebuffs him and contradicts his account. A second man repeatedly asserts his dominance over the first man, including beating him every time at a mathematical game (a version of Nim).

Through ambiguous flashbacks and disorienting shifts of time and location, the film explores the relationships between the three characters. Conversations and events are repeated in several places in the building and grounds, and there are numerous tracking shots of the hotel's corridors, with ambiguous and repetitive voiceovers. No certain conclusion is offered: The man may have consummated his longing for the woman; she may have agreed to run away with him; her jealous husband may have shot her, or the man himself may have killed her.


The characters are unnamed in the film; in the published screenplay, the woman is referred to with the letter "A", the first man is "X", and the man who may be her husband is "M".


L'Année dernière à Marienbad was created out of an unusual collaboration between its writer Alain Robbe-Grillet and its director Alain Resnais. Robbe-Grillet described its basis:

Alain Resnais and I were able to collaborate only because we had seen the film in the same way from the start, and not just in the same general outlines but exactly, in the construction of the least detail as in its total architecture. What I wrote might have been what was already in [his] mind; what he added during the shooting was what I might have written. ...Paradoxically enough, and thanks to the perfect identity of our conceptions, we almost always worked separately.[2]

Robbe-Grillet wrote a screenplay which was very detailed, specifying not only the décor and gestures but also the placement and movement of the camera and the sequencing of shots in the editing. Resnais filmed the script with great fidelity, making only limited alterations which seemed necessary. Robbe-Grillet was not present during the filming. When he saw the rough-cut, he said that he found the film just as he had intended it, while recognising how much Resnais had added to make it work on the screen and to fill out what was absent from the script. Robbe-Grillet then published his screenplay, illustrated by shots from the film, as a "ciné-roman (ciné-novel)".[3]

Despite the close correspondence between the written and filmed works, numerous differences between them have been identified. Two notable examples are the choice of music in the film (Francis Seyrig's score introduces extensive use of a solo organ), and a scene near the end of the film in which the screenplay explicitly describes a rape, whereas the film substitutes a series of repeated bleached-out travelling shots moving towards the woman.[4] In subsequent statements by the two authors of the film, it was partly acknowledged that they did not entirely share the same vision of it.[lower-alpha 2]

Filming took place over a period of ten weeks between September and November 1960. The locations used for most of the interiors and the gardens were the palaces of Schleissheim and Nymphenburg, including the Amalienburg hunting lodge, and the Antiquarium of the Residenz, all of them in and around Munich. Additional interior scenes were filmed in the Photosonore-Marignan-Simo studios in Paris. (No filming was done in the Czech spa town of Marienbad — and the film does not allow the viewer to know with certainty which, if any, scenes are supposed to be located there.) Filming was in black-and-white in Dyaliscope wide-screen.[6][7][8]


The film continually creates an ambiguity in the spatial and temporal aspects of what it shows, and creates uncertainty in the mind of the spectator about the causal relationships between events. This may be achieved through the editing, giving apparently incompatible information in consecutive shots, or within a shot which seems to show impossible juxtapositions, or by means of repetitions of events in different settings and décor. These ambiguities are matched by contradictions in the narrator's voiceover commentary.[9] Among the notable images in the film is a scene in which two characters (and the camera) rush out of the château and are faced with a tableau of figures arranged in a geometric garden; although the people cast long dramatic shadows (which were painted on the ground), the trees in the garden do not (not real trees but constructions).

The manner in which the film is edited challenged the established classical style of narrative construction.[10] It allowed the themes of time and the mind and the interaction of past and present to be explored in an original way.[11] As spatial and temporal continuity is destroyed by its methods of filming and editing, the film offers instead a "mental continuity", a continuity of thought.[12]

In determining the visual appearance of the film, Resnais said that he wanted to recreate "a certain style of silent cinema", and his direction as well as the actors' make-up sought to produce this atmosphere.[13] He even asked Eastman Kodak if they could supply an old-fashioned filmstock that would 'bloom' or 'halo' to create the look of a silent film (they could not).[14] Resnais showed his costume designer photographs from L'Inhumaine and L'Argent, for which great fashion designers of the 1920s had created the costumes. He also asked members of his team to look at other silent films including Pabst's Pandora's Box: he wanted Delphine Seyrig's appearance and manner to resemble that of Louise Brooks but she had cut her hair which necessitated the smooth shaped hairstyle.[15] Most of Seyrig's dresses in the film were designed by Chanel.[16] The style of certain silent films is also suggested by the manner in which the characters who populate the hotel are mostly seen in artificial poses, as if frozen in time, rather than behaving naturalistically.[17]

The films which immediately preceded and followed Marienbad in Resnais's career showed a political engagement with contemporary issues (the atomic bomb, the aftermath of the Occupation in France, and the then taboo subject of the war in Algeria); Marienbad however was seen to take a completely different direction and to focus principally on style.[10] Commenting on this departure, Resnais said: "I was making this film at a time when I think, rightly, that one could not make a film, in France, without speaking about the Algerian war. Indeed I wonder whether the closed and stifling atmosphere of L'Année does not result from those contradictions."[18]


Contemporary critics' responses to the film were polarized.[19][20] Controversy was fuelled when Robbe-Grillet and Resnais appeared to give contradictory answers to the question whether the man and woman had actually met at Marienbad last year or not; this was used as a means of attacking the film by those who disliked it.[21]

In 1963 the writer and film-maker Ado Kyrou declared the film a total triumph in his influential Le Surréalisme au cinéma,[22] recognizing the ambiguous environment and obscure motives within the film as representing many of the concerns of surrealism in narrative cinema. Another early supporter, the actor and surrealist Jacques Brunius, declared that "Marienbad is the greatest film ever made".[23]

Less reverently, Marienbad received an entry in The Fifty Worst Films of All Time, by Harry Medved, with Randy Dreyfuss and Michael Medved. The authors lampooned the film's surrealistic style and quoted numerous critics who found it to be pretentious and/or incomprehensible. The film critic Pauline Kael called it "the high-fashion experimental film, the snow job at the ice palace... back at the no-fun party for non-people".[24]

The movie inspired a brief craze for the Nim variation played by the characters.[25]

Although the film remains disparaged by some critics, Last Year at Marienbad has come to be regarded by many as one of Resnais' greatest works. Review aggregation site They Shoot Pictures, Don't They has found it to be the 83rd most acclaimed movie in history,[26] and it received 23 total votes in the British Film Institute's decennial Sight & Sound polls.[27]

In July 2018, it was selected to be screened in the Venice Classics section at the 75th Venice International Film Festival.[28]


Numerous explanations of the film's events have been put forward: that it is a version of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth; that it represents the relationship between patient and psychoanalyst; that it all takes place in the woman's mind;[29] that it all takes place in the man's mind, and depicts his refusal to acknowledge that he has killed the woman he loved;[30] that the characters are ghosts or dead souls in limbo;[31] etc.

Some have noted that the film has the atmosphere and the form of a dream, that the structure of the film may be understood by the analogy of a recurring dream,[32] or even that the man's meeting with the woman is the memory (or dream) of a dream.[33]

Others have heeded, at least as a starting point, the indications given by Robbe-Grillet in the introduction to his screenplay: "Two attitudes are then possible: either the spectator will try to reconstitute some 'Cartesian' scheme – the most linear, the most rational he can devise – and this spectator will certainly find the film difficult if not incomprehensible; or else the spectator will let himself be carried along by the extraordinary images in front of him [...] and to this spectator, the film will seem the easiest he has ever seen: a film addressed exclusively to his sensibility, to his faculties of sight, hearing, feeling."[34]

Robbe-Grillet offered a further suggestion of how one might view the work: "The whole film, as a matter of fact, is the story of a persuading ["une persuasion"]: it deals with a reality which the hero creates out of his own vision, out of his own words."[35]

Resnais for his part gave a more abstract explanation of the film's purpose: "For me this film is an attempt, still very crude and very primitive, to approach the complexity of thought, of its processes."[36]


The film won the Golden Lion at the 1961 Venice Film Festival. In 1962 it won the critics' award in the category Best Film of the Syndicat Français de la Critique de cinéma in France. The film was selected by France as its entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 34th Academy Awards in 1962, but was not accepted as a nominee.[37] However, it was nominated for the 1963 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay (Alain Robbe-Grillet)[38] and it was also nominated for a Hugo Award as Best Dramatic Presentation.

The film was refused entry to the Cannes Film Festival because the director, Alain Resnais, had signed Jean-Paul Sartre's Manifesto of the 121 against the Algerian War.[39]


The impact of L'Année dernière à Marienbad upon other film-makers has been widely recognised and variously illustrated, extending from French directors such as Agnès Varda, Marguerite Duras, and Jacques Rivette to international figures like Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini.[40] Stanley Kubrick's The Shining[41] and David Lynch's Inland Empire[42] are two films which are cited with particular frequency as showing the influence of Marienbad.

Terence Young related he styled the pre-credits sequence of From Russia with Love on L'Année dernière à Marienbad.[43]

Peter Greenaway said that Marienbad had been the most important influence upon his own filmmaking (and he himself established a close working relationship with its cinematographer Sacha Vierny).[44]

The film's visual style has also been imitated in many TV commercials and fashion photography.[45]

The music video for "To the End", a 1994 single by British rock group Blur, is based on the film.

This film was the main inspiration for Karl Lagerfeld's Chanel Spring–Summer 2011 collection.[46] Lagerfeld's show was complete with a fountain and a modern replica of the film's famous garden. Since costumes for this film were done by Coco Chanel, Lagerfeld drew his inspiration from the film and combined the film's gardens with those at Versailles.

Home video releases

On 23 June 2009, the Criterion Collection released L'Année dernière à Marienbad in the United States as a Region 1 DVD and Blu-ray.[47] Alan Resnais insisted that the Blu-Ray and DVD editions include an unrestored soundtrack in addition to the restored one, saying:

"Sound recording and reproduction techniques have changed a lot over the decades. If one remasters a film so as to tailor it to the standards of 2009, there is a danger of altering drastically the balance of the voices, the sound effects, and the music. By correcting so-called flaws, one can lose the style of a film altogether. It is better to respect the sound characteristics of the time, especially as in most cases they do not disturb the viewer anymore after two minutes. Above all, if one removes the background hiss from the soundtrack, one takes out all the harmonic frequencies of the actors' voices in the process. Be it in the low, the medium, or the treble range, the voices become neutral, flat, mannered; the acting loses a great part of its dramatic value. When you see an aggressively remastered film by Sacha Guitry, you have the feeling the voice you hear is not Guitry's; you believe that this is a dubbed film and the dialogue is being read or recited. In most cases I know, the remastering is so brutal that the performances are deprived of their appeal. Every time I have had the opportunity to compare an unrestored and a restored soundtrack in a recording studio, the loss was obvious. The same goes for the music: if one corrects a distorted spot, the music is likely to sound dead. As a director, I do not object to a carefully considered, non-mechanical remastering of my films, but I am keen on giving the viewer the choice between the two soundtracks. As a viewer, I always prefer what may be called the original version."[48]

The Criterion edition went out of print in March 2013.[49] It is available on DVD from Netflix. StudioCanal released the movie in Europe on Blu-ray and DVD in September 2018.[50]


  1. According to Thomas Beltzer, in Last Year at Marienbad: An Intertextual Meditation, the film script may have been based in part on The Invention of Morel, a science fiction novel published in 1940 by the Argentine writer Adolfo Bioy Casares. The Invention of Morel is about a fugitive, hiding out alone on a deserted island who one day awakens to discover that the island is miraculously filled with anachronistically dressed people who, according to the text, "dance, stroll up and down, and swim in the pool, as if this were a summer resort like Los Teques or Marienbad." He later learns that they are creations of an inventor, Morel, whose recording machine captured the exact likenesses of a group of friends, which are "played" over and over again. The Italian director Emidio Greco made a film L'Invenzione di Morel (1974) based on Bioy Casares' novel, and earlier there was a French TV movie, L'invention de Morel (1967). Although Alain Robbe-Grillet acknowledged familiarity with the novel of Bioy Casares, Alain Resnais had not read the book at the time of making the film.[1]
  2. According to Resnais, Robbe-Grillet used to insist that it was he who wrote Marienbad, without question, and that Resnais's filming of it was a betrayal—but that since he found it very beautiful he did not blame him for it.[5]


  1. Benayoun 1980, p. 98.
  2. From the introduction to Alain Robbe-Grillet's Last Year at Marienbad: a Ciné-Novel; trans. from the French by Richard Howard. (London: John Calder, 1962) p. 6.
  3. Alain Robbe-Grillet, L'Année dernière à Marienbad: ciné-roman. (Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 1961). See the introduction, pp. 10–12, for his account of the film's gestation.
  4. Leutrat 2000, pp. 52–60.
  5. Benayoun 1980, p. 103.
  6. Monaco 1978, pp. 57–9.
  7. Leutrat 2000, p. 70.
  8. Antoine de Baecque, "Ce lieu réel n'existe pas, ou si peu...", in Libération, 27 août 2004. [Retrieved 10 October 2015]
  9. David Bordwell & Kristin Thompson, Film Art: an Introduction; 4th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1993) pp. 391–396.
  10. James Monaco, Alain Resnais: the role of imagination. (London: Secker & Warburg, 1978) p. 53.
  11. Armes 1968, p. 185.
  12. Brunius 1962, p. 123.
  13. Armes 1968, p. 105.
  14. James Monaco, Alain Resnais: the role of imagination. (London: Secker & Warburg, 1978) p. 55.
  15. Renais interview on Criterion supplemental DVD
  16. Leutrat 2000, pp. 62, 70.
  17. James Monaco, Alain Resnais: the role of imagination. (London: Secker & Warburg, 1978) p. 64.
  18. Emma Wilson, Alain Resnais. (Manchester University Press, 2006) p. 84: "Et faire ce film au moment où je crois, justement, qu'on ne peut faire de film, en France, sans parler de la guerre d'Algérie. D'ailleurs, je me demande si l'atmosphère close et étouffante de L'Année ne résulte pas de ces contradictions."
  19. Benayound 1980, pp. 84–5.
  20. Leutrat 2000, pp. 7–8.
  21. Brunius 1962, p. 122.
  22. Ado Kyrou, Le Surréalisme au cinéma. ([Paris]: Le Terrain Vague, 1963) p. 206.
  23. Brunius 1962, pp. 122–7, 153.
  24. Pauline Kael, "The Come-Dressed-as-the-Sick-Soul-of-Europe Parties", in I Lost It at the Movies. (Boston: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1965) p. 186.
  25. "Games: Two on a Match", Time Magazine, 23 March 1962, archived from the original on 19 February 2011
  26. "1,000 Greatest Films (Full List)". Retrieved 18 January 2016.
  27. "Last Year at Marienbad (1961)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 18 January 2016.
  28. "Biennale Cinema 2018, Venice Classics". Retrieved 22 July 2018.
  29. Armes 1968, p. 184.
  30. John Ward, Alain Resnais, or the Theme of Time. (London: Secker & Warburg, 1968) p. 39.
  31. Cited by Jean-Louis Leutrat, L'Année dernière à Marienbad; trans. by Paul Hammond. (London: BFI Publishing, 2000) pp. 28–30.
  32. Brunius 1962, pp. 124–6.
  33. Benayoun 1980, pp. 99–100.
  34. Introduction to Alain Robbe-Grillet's Last Year at Marienbad: a Ciné-Novel; trans. from the French by Richard Howard. (London: John Calder, 1962) pp. 17–18.
  35. Introduction to Alain Robbe-Grillet's Last Year at Marienbad: a Ciné-Novel; trans. from the French by Richard Howard. (London: John Calder, 1962) p. 12. "Tout le film est en effet l'histoire d'une persuasion: il s'agit d'une réalité que le héros crée par sa propre vision, par sa propre parole."
  36. From an interview with Cahiers du Cinéma, quoted by Robert Benayoun, Alain Resnais: arpenteur de l'imaginaire. Paris: Ramsay, 2008. pp. 105–106: "Ce film est pour moi une tentative, encore très grossière and très primitive, d'approcher la complexité de la pensée, de son mécanisme".
  37. Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
  38. "The 35th Academy Awards (1963) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 29 October 2011.
  39. Steinlein, Almut (12 January 2010). "Letztes Jahr in Marienbad" (in German). Retrieved 6 November 2011.
  40. Robert Benayoun, Alain Resnais: arpenteur de l'imaginaire. Paris: Ramsay, 2008. p. 106.
  41. E.g. Last Year at Marienbad: Which Year at Where?, by Mark Polizzotti (an essay for the Criterion Collection). [Retrieved 11 November 2011]
  42. E.g. "Marienbad Returns, Unsettling as Ever", by Mark Harris, in The New York Times, 13 January 2008. [Retrieved 11 November 2011]
  43. p.27 Rubin, Stephen Jay James Bond Films Random House Value Publishing, 1 Mar 1982
  44. Film-makers on film: Peter Greenaway: an interview with John Whitley in The Daily Telegraph, 14 June 2004. [Retrieved 11 November 2011]
  45. Last Year in Marienbad, [review] by Philip French, in The Observer, 22 April 2007. [Retrieved 11 November 2011]
  46. "Chanel’s Year in Marienbad", by Suzy Menkes, in The New York Times, 5 October 2010. [Retrieved 11 November 2011]
  47. "Last Year at Marienbad Amazon" [Retrieved 2 February 2013]
  48. Barrett, Michael. "Remember LAST YEAR? Are you sure?". Film Score Daily. Retrieved 25 August 2018.
  49. "Criterion Out of Print Announcement" [Retrieved 2 February 2013]

Works cited

  • Armes, Roy (1968). The Cinema of Alain Resnais. Zwemmer, A.S. Barnes.
  • Benayoun, Robert (1980). Alain Resnais: arpenteur de l'imaginaire (in French). Stock/Cinéma. ISBN 978-2-234-01358-2.
  • Brunius, Jacques (1962). "Every Year in Marienbad". Sight & Sound. 31 (3).
  • Leutrat, Jean-Louis (2000). L'Année dernière à Marienbad. Translated by Hammond, Paul. British Film Institute.
  • Monaco, James (1978). Alain Resnais: The Role of Imagination. Secker & Warburg.

Further reading

  • Grunenberg, Christoph, and Eva Fischer-Hausdorf [eds.]. Last Year in Marienbad: a Film as Art. Cologne: Wienand Verlag, 2015. (Reviewed by Duncan Fallowell, "Homage to Alain Resnais's mesmerising masterpiece, Last Year in Marienbad", in The Spectator, 3 September 2016.)
  • Leutrat, Jean-Louis. L'Année dernière à Marienbad. (London: British Film Institute, 2000).
  • Powell, Dilys. The Dilys Powell Film Reader. (Manchester: Carcanet, 1991) pp. 372–373. (Review published in The Sunday Times, 1962, preceded by notes made during Sep. 1961 - Feb. 1962. Review also printed in The Golden Screen. (London: Pavilion Books, 1989) pp. 183–184.)
  • Robbe-Grillet, Alain. L'Année dernière à Marienbad: ciné-roman. (Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 1961). English translation: Last Year at Marienbad: a Ciné-Novel; translated from the French by Richard Howard. (London: John Calder, 1962).
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