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February 04, 2010

Last Night at Marienbad

The other evening I was watching a bizarre little Alain Resnais film, Last Year at Marienbad, which brought up echoes of L'Avventura as I watched it.¹ Although L'Avventura didn't connect with me in the same way, nonetheless, both films required a lot of investment.

But first, a little précis of the plot, if it can truly be said to have one. A man approaches a woman in a hotel, claiming to have met her the previous year at Fredricksbad, or Marienbad, or perhaps Zarlsberg. She claims that it cannot be true, and he weaves memories of the occasion to convince her. This and the rest of the film exists in a bit of a dream state where various scenes occur which may or may not have been part of that story, or might be happening after he approaches her at the start of the film. Many lines of dialogue are repeated in different contexts, or at times even in the same context. There are various bits from the New Wave: shooting day for night, cuts which break up time in weird ways, overdubbed narration (though not necessarily from the point of view of a particular character). A second man, who appears to be romantically involved with the woman in some way (possibly her husband), enters the fray as well, and appears in various reinterpretations of particular scenes.

The film demands the viewer to make associations between the characters, to consider potential interpretations, and to revise those interpretations as more information becomes available. It reminded me of nothing so much in games as puzzle games such as Drop 7 and Tetris, though with the added layer of narrative complexity, of a kind of semantics. In abstract puzzle games like the aforementioned, the player makes plans as he goes, interpreting the playing field in particular ways, and ultimately drastically changing his view of the playing field in response to unusual circumstances, such as the repeated appearance of a particular shape of block in Tetris, a series of the same number in Drop 7, or the uncovering of previously hidden information in Drop 7 which changes his approach.

But the film succeeded for me not entirely because of its form, but because of the way that form pulled in thoughts of my own romantic entanglements of the past, and even acted as a sort of catharsis. The form allowed me to emotionally allude to events in my own life, and gave it a much greater meaning than it might have otherwise. When the film was over I was exhausted, just completely drained. Thinking on it, I wondered if there were a way to make a game that layered this sort of narrative meaning atop an interactive puzzly core.

I will caution folks that this film is not for everyone, no more than L'Avventura is. Critics are sharply divided on it, and it indeed made a book containing the Worst 50 Films in the opinions of the authors, while other critics hail it as a masterpiece. It's the sort of film that inspires satire and parody -- when you see a fake SNL commercial in black and white with all the actors looking away from one another as they speak, this is likely the film that they are mocking. But in a certain frame of mind, the film is immensely successful at pulling out an emotional response that might be otherwise hard to achieve, because it doesn't fix on a particular story but a whole set of stories... exactly the sort of thing one expects games could be good at.

I have been working up a post about why I pursue certain types of obsessive collecting in games and eschew others, and I may get to finish that this weekend, so come on back.

¹I tried to convince myself that I had seen the film before, perhaps a year ago, at another location, and I'm not sure whether I succeeded or failed. Yes, this is an obscure joke related to the film. (back)

Posted by Brett Douville at 08:12 AM | Comments (2)