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Review: 'Hiroshima Mon Amour' a must-see for film lovers

Review: 'Hiroshima Mon Amour' a must-see for film lovers
Emmanuelle Riva and Eiji Okada in "Hiroshima Mon Amour." (American Cinematheque)

It's tempting to believe the cinema of memory never truly existed before 1959, when French filmmaker Alain Resnais tackled the subject with such intimate, mesmerizing care in his feature debut, "Hiroshima Mon Amour."

This classic black-and-white story of love, war, suffering and forgetfulness, which was sweated out of an affair between a French actress (Emmanuelle Riva) and a married Japanese architect (Eiji Okada) in the titular bomb-ravaged city, has been given a 4K restoration, and it should leap to the top of any movie lover's to-see list this weekend.

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What's immediately apparent is that Resnais and writer Marguerite Duras made for an extraordinary partnership. Duras' probing dialogue between the Frenchwoman's feelings of loss and guilt and her Japanese lover's knowing, negating aloofness are given visual heft by Resnais' artfully timed mixture of documentary footage filmed in Hiroshima and the melancholic glamour of the central coupling.

As the film segues from narrated reality to an almost operatic, flashback-laced drama of sensual misery — achingly rendered by Riva and Okada — it becomes that rare movie in which present and past meld in every frame to convey a sense of time obliterated, or a dream having a nightmare.

Resnais, who made movies up to his death this year at 91, left behind many exquisite reminders of his considerable filmmaking gifts. But "Hiroshima Mon Amour" remains a highlight, not just for its depiction of an emotionally fragile postwar world but also for its portrayal of a struggle that has always been there, of how to reconcile physical connection and philosophical emptiness.

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"Hiroshima Mon Amour"

MPAA rating: None.

Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes.

Playing: Laemmle's Royal, West L.A.; Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena; Laemmle's Town Center 5, Encino.

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