Criterion’s original DVD edition of Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima mon amour presents the film in the aspect ratio of about 1.33:1 on a dual-layer disc. Because of the ratio the image has not been enhanced for widescreen televisions.
Though it still has its problems we actually do get a very nice image, especially for the time. The transfer, scanned from a 35mm fine-grain master, looks quite sharp with clear details and decent depth. Contrast is excellent with fairly rich black levels and distinct grays. The transfer is stable and compression isn’t too big of an issue, even upscaled.
Where the presentation lacks is in terms of print quality. Restoration work has been done and the image is generally clean, though specs and bit of debris are always popping up and dancing through the screen. There is also a fairly consistent flicker throughout the film that can vary in intensity. Despite these issues the digital presentation itself is at least strong, not enhancing any of the remaining flaws. 7/10
All DVD screen captures are presented in their original size from the source disc. Images have been compressed slightly to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
It’s a lower priced release and at a glance it may not look like there is a lot on here, but the material we do get is quite extensive and help in decrypting the film. Peter Cowie’s audio commentary is easily the disc’s most important and insightful feature, with Cowie giving a decent analysis of the film while also giving a backstory to its production. Cowie admits to being first turned off by the film but it has grown on him over the years and he now believes it to be a masterpiece. Throughout he talks about the imagery, the unusual narrative structure, and what the characters represent, while also breaking down certain sections of the film, particularly the last 20-minutes, showcasing Resnais’ style, which has probably influenced countless films since, doubting something like Memento would exist without this one. Cowie also gets into great detail about the film’s themes about the past and its context within the cold war (interestingly the film was withheld from certain film festivals out of fear of offending the American government). But most impressively Cowie has also done a lot of research on the events surrounding the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, and even how a nuclear bomb works, sharing those details here. It’s a well-rounded, educational, and entertaining track, with Cowie helping to decipher what is a fairly complicated film. His comments on the last 20-minutes are especially enlightening.
Criterion next provides a few commentaries, the first two featuring director Alain Resnais. The first, from a 1961 episode of the French television program Cinépanorama, features the director talking about his work, specifically Last Year at Marienbad, and then his ideas on film and his part in them: he doesn’t consider himself an “auteur” but what sounds more to be just another cog in the machine of making films. During the last portion he talks a little about Hiroshima mon amour. The second interview, from a 1980 radio episode of Le cinéma des cinéastes, features Resnais talking about Hiroshima in more detail, going over the timing of it, the demands of working on an international co production, and the brief work of Chris Marker on the film. Both are excellent and insightful, running 6-minutes and 11-minutes respectively.
We also get two interviews with actress Emmanuelle Riva, the first from 1959 at Cannes, where the actress talks about the film, her role, and her newfound stardom running about 6-minutes. Much better, though, is an interview filmed for Criterion back in 2003 running 19-minutes. Here she gets into more detail about getting the role and then what it was like working on the film, which sounded to be a bit difficult with a cast and crew that didn’t all speak the same language (as mentioned here and elsewhere on the release her costar, Eiji Okada, couldn’t speak French and actually dubbed his dialogue phonetically during post production). She also gives her own opinion on the film’s conclusion.
We then get screenplay annotations by Duras. She was asked by Resnais to provide some, though to treat the script as not being “a future film, but a finished film.” We get a sampling of these annotations, primarily for some of the Woman’s flashback sequences, read by Laylage Courie over the matching sequences in the film. The annotations, mostly told from the perspective of the protagonist, give some insights into character motivations or the meaning of certain actions. I found this another particularly strong inclusion that aids in one’s understanding of the film.
The disc also comes with an isolated music and effects track, highlighting the intriguing score and sound design. It’s also presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 mono.
Criterion also includes a lengthy booklet first featuring an essay by Kent Jones. Jones gives a very in-depth analysis of the film and its very complicated structure, while also stressing the impact it has made. It does cover most of the points mentioned throughout the on-disc supplements but it works great as a summary of everything. The booklet also features a reprint of a round-table conversation between Eric Rohmer, Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, Jean Domarchie, Pierre Kast, and Jacques Rivette, where they discuss the film and share their ideas on the film’s structure and its meaning. This is a very strong inclusion, getting some great insights into the film and its construction from other filmmakers.
The booklet also features a short piece on composer Giovanni Fusco followed by what could be considered biographies for the two main characters (called “portraits” here) written by Duras.
Again it’s not a stacked edition, but the supplements are all very strong, especially Cowie’s commentary, offering a wonderful scholarly slant that aids in understanding the film and its importance. 8/10