With a retrospectively simple story, Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour complexly integrates documentary and documentary-like footage with more standard narrative-fiction chunks. Helpd a great deal by themes of Freudian repression, the film helped to inititate the French New Wave in a way quite distinct from the likes of Godard and Truffaut. Hiroshima famously begins with extreme close-up footage of human skin; all that is clear is that there are two bodies rather intertwined. The footage seems to be mainly composed of hands and backs, but the claustrophobic blurriness gives the sense that with close contact and a lack of separating space comes an unfocused and disembodied confusion.
Images reminiscent of Resnais’ own Night and Fog are inserted into the footage, reflecting the subjective point of view of the female protagonist. The character’s lovemaking in a Hiroshima hotel room connects with the only other psychological association between Hiroshima and the human body: footage of the A-bomb Hiroshima victims. Her French identity not only lends to the objectification of the population of Hiroshima as a unified identity (victims of Western nuclear weaponry), but the implied guilt of the West ties with her character’s guilt of a repressed/suppressed experience of her illicit love affair with a German soldier during the war. Early in the film, this association is implied for the first time through the hand connection. She, standing near the window looking upon the sleeping man’s body in bed, focuses on his hand. This image immediately cuts to another one like it from an earlier state of consciousness.
At this point, it is unclear whether the character’s association is conscious or unconscious, suppressed or repressed (respectively). A later scene in the film implies the latter of each pairing. When the character and her Japanese lothario discuss her memories in a bar, he pours her multiple beers and positions himself as the dominating interrogator. These actions imply a psychologically symbolic setting. Further, he twice slaps her violently in the face when she begins to lose emotional control. While it is difficult to avoid interpreting his action as misogynistic, the exaggerated gesture and her subdued response appear to reinforce the figurative tone of the scene. During the exchange, she states the necessity of repression, saying that without it, “we’d suffocate.” Her defense is ironic, juxtaposed (or perhaps matched) with her nearly hysterical gasping for emotional and psychological peace and stability. In the end, more than merely the psychiatric session seems to be symbolic.
The character of the Japanese man also seems to stand for something else: Hiroshima itself. Her affair with him to try to cover her shameful past is an affair with Japan to erase Germany. Both Axis powers, she is France, a member of the Allies. Her dalliance with one nation inteds to erase her dalliance with another. Her guilt for cavorting with Germany becomes guilt for her responbility for the horrors of Hiroshima by virtue of being a Westerner and a force against the Axis. The film’s title finally confirms the identification of Hiroshima with her lover: Hiroshima Mon Amour.