Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Last Year at Marienbad (1961)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Last Year at Marienbad (1961, Fr/It.) (aka L'Année Dernière à Marienbad)

In this enigmatic, cinematically puzzling, and ambiguous New Wave film - a black and white expressionistic film and fragmented tale about dreamy seduction from director Alain Resnais, that mixed time (past and present), and reality (fantasy vs. memory). Many critics have regarded the film as having a strong influence on Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980), David Lynch's Mulholland Dr. (2001) and Inland Empire (2006).

[Note: in the original screenplay by Alain Robbe-Grillet, there was an explicit forceful rape, but it was not fully pictured in the film.]

  • the setting after the opening credits: an opulent but empty European hotel or resort chateau in Marienbad (in the Czech Republic) - seen in an atmospheric, deathly, ominous voice-over guided tour with lengthy tracking camera shots (slightly tilted upwards) - viewing the expansive hallways and long dark corridors, mirror-lined walls, statues, high ceilings with ornate chandeliers - and outdoors, geometric gardens, often with repetitive wording:
    (Narrator: "I made my way once again along these corridors and through these rooms, in this building that belongs to the past, this huge, luxurious and baroque hotel, where endless corridors...Silent rooms where the sound of footsteps is absorbed by carpets so heavy, so thick, that all sound escapes the ear. As if the ear itself, as one walks, once again, along these corridors, through these rooms...Cross corridors that lead in turn to rooms heavily laden with a decor from the past, silent rooms where the sound of footsteps is absorbed by carpets so heavy, so thick, that all sound escapes the ear. As if the ear itself were very far from the ground....I made my way once again along these corridors, through these great rooms in this building that belongs to the past. This dismal, baroque hotel where corridor follows corridor. Silent, deserted corridors heavily laden with woodwork and panelling, with marble, mirrors, pictures and darkness, pillars, alcoves and rows of doorways...Cross corridors leading in turn to empty rooms, rooms heavily laden with a decor from the past. Silent rooms where the sound of footsteps is absorbed by carpets so thick that all sound escapes the ear. As if the ear itself were very far from the ground, far from this empty decor, far from this ceiling with its branches and garlands like classical foliage. As if the ground were still sand and gravel and stone paving which I crossed once again on my way to meet you. Between these walls laden with woodwork, with pictures and framed engravings, through which I made my way amongst which I was already waiting for you. Very far from the setting where I find myself now, as you still wait for someone who will not come. Someone who may never come to separate us again, to take you away from me. ") -- eventually the tour entered the hotel's theatre for a play-within-a-film being performed, and attended by the hotel guests (impassive, unmoving, and coldly-still)
  • the introduction of the three main characters involved in a traditional love triangle - an existential, non-linear dance of seduction between two 'lovers' who might not actually know each other, exist together, or even be alive:
    - a nameless unmarried man (hero): X/Stranger (Giorgio Albertazzi), handsome
    - a woman (heroine): A/Woman-Lover (Delphine Seyrig), sleek, elegant and alluring
    - her authoritarian husband (or escort): M (Sacha Pitoeff), brooding, jealous and threatening
  • the statuesque, immobile guests at the hotel who appeared to be either trapped or automatons, or were they ghosts or dead souls existing in purgatory (including the main characters)?
  • the many mathematical games (similar to Nim) between the two men - M often enjoyed defeating X/Stranger
  • X's endless and obsessive attempts to convince A that they had met before and had past associations (last year at Marienbad?), including having had sex at the hotel - seen in subjective imaginings (possibly his, possibly hers); the entire object of his intense, but flat and sometimes creepy, pushy questioning was to prove his delusional point, and persuade the woman of his account of the past, while she continued to protest his assertions; when he caressed her breasts in the garden, she responded: ("Leave me alone, please....Who are you? What's your name? You're like some phantom, waiting for me to come. Leave me")
  • X's treatment of the details of the previous year's events at Marienbad were as if they were fictional segments of a conventional movie drama; he believed that A had previously promised to elope or run away with him when they again met, and that they had an unrealized love affair, but she claimed that she couldn't remember, made repeated attempts to rebuff and recoil from him, and became weary by his assertions -- whether X was lying, experiencing a nightmare, or only confused about A's identity was open to question
  • the film's incomprehensible premise: had A been murdered by M because of the alleged affair talked about (there was a brief sequence of M firing on A on her bed with a silencer-gun, and she fell back onto the floor, with her feet still on the bed) - and then X had developed this fuzzy story in his imagination to assuage his guilt, by thinking of her as alive?
  • the bedroom 'rape' scene - only viewed as fragmentary and incomplete - the short bedroom scene commenced when A was started by X's advance toward her on the bed; she backed up in fear against the bed's headboard - followed by another of the over-exposed (hallucinatory), feverishly-swift tracking shots (also seen earlier), down a long corridor towards A who was standing in the middle of a room with outstretched arms; separate takes of the same camera movement, but with minor or slight changes, were frantically repeated
The Bedroom "Rape" Scene
  • by film's end, X's ambiguous allegations about what had happened were completely uncertain, although it appeared that the protagonist had gradually succeeded in readying A to leave the hotel one night for an unknown destination, as M watched them depart from a staircase (although X's voice-over account was unreliable and described in the past tense: "The grounds of the hotel were symmetrically arranged without trees or flowers, or plants of any kind. The gravel, the stone, and the marble were spread in strict array in unmysterious shapes. At first sight, it seemed impossible to lose your way. At first sight... Along these stone paths and amidst these statues, where you were already losing your way forever, in the still night, alone with me")

The Opulent But Empty European Hotel/Chateau in Marienbad

X/Stranger (Giorgio Albertazzi) With A/Woman-Lover


The Mathematical Games

X Touching A's Breast in the Garden

Over-Exposed and Washed-Out Tracking Shot

M Firing Silencer-Gun at A

A's "Murder" by M


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