Daily | Alain Resnais’s JE T’AIME, JE T’AIME

Je t’aime, je t’aime

‘Je t’aime, je t’aime’

A new 35mm print of Alain Resnais‘s Je t’aime, je t’aime (1968) is screening at Film Forum in New York through Thursday and then heads to Los Angeles for a run at Cinefamily (February 28 through March 6) before moving along to Seattle and Northwest Film Forum (March 28 through April 3). This “time-travel fantasy is both goofy and poetic—as well as a significant film from his strongest period,” writes J. Hoberman for the New York Review of Books. “As a sci-fi love story, with a protagonist who floats free throughout his past, Je t’aime, je t’aime recalls Chris Marker’s La Jetée and anticipates Steven Soderbergh’s underappreciated Solaris remake. Remarkably, this is the film’s first US release.”

“Claude Ridder (Claude Rich) is scarcely out the door of the mental hospital where he’s been recovering from a suicide attempt when he’s intercepted by a pair of impeccably dressed representatives from an enigmatic and anonymous corporation,” explains Dan Sullivan in the L. “They pitch Claude on participating in an experiment, and our depressive hero goes along with it for lack of anything better to do. Soon, he’s loaded into a mollusk-like vessel where, plopped atop a fleshy beanbag with only a mouse to keep him company, he’s transported back a year to relive a single minute from his life. Quelle surprise: the experiment goes terribly awry.”

“The question of why Claude shot himself turns out to be a mystery that’s solvable only after the hopscotching story has come to its blunt, shocking, unexpectedly moving finale,” writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. “Part of what makes the emotional power of the ending surprising is that the film initially comes across as a cool, playful intellectual exercise. This proves untrue, but because Mr. Resnais doesn’t provide the usual narrative foreshadowing and guideposts—his music doesn’t try to nudge or bully you into certain emotional states—the experience of watching it can be akin to the pleasures of solving a puzzle. You can grasp the individual pieces, the meanings of which are sometimes transparent, yet you also need to trust in Mr. Resnais that, eventually, everything will fit into a decipherable whole.”

“You can see why Michel Gondry cited this film as a major influence on his and Charlie Kaufman’s sci-fi romance, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, though Resnais’s effects are even more gloriously handmade,” writes Time Out‘s Keith Uhlich. “The time machine itself looks like a cross between a womb and a beanbag chair, while Ridder’s movements through his scrambled subconscious are signaled by multiple, ragged jump cuts. (Few films make you feel like the protagonist’s destiny hangs on every edit.) As Ridder’s recollections accumulate, even the most mundane event seems charged with fatalistic purpose. What separates us from the beasts, the movie implies, is our capacity for emotion—as much our undoing, finally, as it is a saving grace.”

“Realized from a five-year collaborative project with novelist Jean Sternberg, Je t’aime, je t’aime is a structurally complex, yet visually refined, emotionally cohesive, and lucid exposition on guilt, desire, longing, and regret,” wrote Acquarello in 2004. More from Aaron Cutler (Voice), Ed Howard and Steve MacFarlane (Slant, 3.5/4). Jonathan Rosenbaum‘s posted his 1973 review and, in the Notebook, Adrian Curry looks back at the posters for Je t’aime, je t’aime that have appeared around the world since the film’s initial release.

Update, 2/21: “Alain Resnais’s psychologically bruising film maudit is a sci-fi romance that charts a long-term relationship’s evolution from an atypically sullen meet-cute to the bitter resentment only the profound understanding of another human being can breed,” writes David Gregory Lawson for Film Comment. “It’s also an empathetic, if cool, portrait of the solipsistic tendencies and dithering that a depressive mindset allows for, and the ways two similarly afflicted people accommodate and temporarily alleviate each other’s pain.”

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