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August 22, 2008

Movies about Movies Blog-a-thon: H Story

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Nobuhiro Suwa - 2001
Panorama Entertainment Region 3 DVD

It has been over thirty years since I had seen Hiroshima, Mon Amour. Since I had decided to write about H Story, it seemed necessary to revisit the source of inspiration. While I had recalled that part of the film, like the novels of Marguerite Duras, was about the veracity of memories, I had forgotten completely another part of the film. Emmanuelle Riva portrays an actress who is in Hiroshima to make a movie about Hiroshima, specifically about the event that literally shook the world. For a few minutes, Resnais films the filming of that movie. Within the context of H Story, not only is it a movie about making a movie, but additionally it is about remaking a movie that itself was partially about filmmaking. The mobius strip doesn't stop there, though.

H Story is additionally about the physical nature of film. For a while there is a visual distinction between the main narrative and the film being made with use of different film stocks. Eventually that distinction is lost. Parts of scenes including those with dialogue, are without sound, and the flare of exposed film is seen more than once. In these ways, H Story is self referential, more so than other, similar films. The device is more closely analogous to that of a novelist like Tom Robbins who breaks off from the storytelling to digress on the act of writing.

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The main narrative is about the attempt to remake Hiroshima, Mon Amour. The bulk of the screenplay in the film within the film is from Duras' screenplay. The director, portrayed by Suwa, discusses having Resnais' film stay in his mind in a discussion with the screenwriter, portrayed by actor and writer Kou Machida. (Suwa was also the writer of the H Story screenplay.) There are cuts to stills from Hiroshima, Mon Amour and one can also see a still in the background when Suwa and Machida discuss the film Suwa is trying to make. While some of the scenes of the film in progress roughly duplicate the original film, others do not. For the most part Suwa declines to repeat the formalism of Resnais. Suwa does apparently have a shot of Beatrice Dalle and Machida follow the same path as Emmanuelle Riva and Eiji Okada in a shopping area of Hiroshima. Attempting to film a scene at a bar, Dalle balks at repeating the dialogue from the original film and complains that Suwa's remake is a "carbon copy". The filming appears to have been completed, but Machida gets a message, while he and Dalle are at the beach, that Suwa has decided to abandon the film.

One of the other distancing devices Suwa employs is having his actors in contemporary clothing while filming the remake. We have the incongruous sight of Dalle sporting a tatoo on her shoulder while discussing World War II with Hiroaki Umano, taking the Okada role. While Suwa also uses color documentary footage of the aftermath of the bombing, it is more abstract, more of a scenic view, without the footage of deformed or injured people that was used by Resnais. It should be remembered that Resnais, like Suwa, a former documentarian, was also interested in the appearance of truth, and used staged footage from the feature Children of Hiroshima.

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Where Suwa goes further than Resnais is in exploring the bombing of Hiroshima as the subject and inspiration for art. Dalle mentions visiting the museum that features artifacts from the bombing, her only contact with the city during the shoot. She and Machida visit a museum of modern artwork inspired by the bombing. The scene recalls Peter Cowie's commentary on the Criterion DVD of Hiroshima, Mon Amour about Hiroshima having been turned into a sort of theme park. Even for Suwa, or at least his onscreen self, Hiroshima is just the city he was born in, with the historical significance part of the background.

If Hiroshima, Mon Amour is, like other works by Duras, about memory, H Story is about not only about how history is remembered, but remembering movies. That some of the scenes are staged differently by Suwa may be indicative of how those scenes appeared in his memory. That we see the film within the film with the camera sometimes going in and out of focus, with brief interludes of silence, and with the light flares, is all part of the fragility and faultiness of memory.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at August 22, 2008 12:12 AM


I feel like I have to revisit "Hiroshima Mon Amour" (and I've never even seen "Marienbad"!) before seeing this one. But it sure makes sense at least for a Japanese filmmaker to take a fresh look at the film, which, along with Hersey's short book, "Hiroshima," is probably the way most Westerners have internalized what happened there during the decades that followed.

On the other hand, I can't take Tom Robbins, but that's just me.

Posted by: Bob at August 24, 2008 06:26 PM