Criterion reissues Alain Resnais’ first feature film Hiroshima mon amour on Blu-ray, using a new 4K restoration created in 2013. The film is presented here on a dual-layer disc in the film’s original aspect ratio of 1.37:1 in 1080p/24hz. The restoration was constructed from scans of “the original camera negative, the internegatives of the special effects, and various archival footage.”
Criterion’s original 2003 DVD offered a fairly strong presentation, though there were still some evident problems with the source ranging from damage to a noticeable flicker. This new presentation manages to correct most of those previous problems and delivers a far more stable image. The flicker that would pop up on the old DVD is now gone and the clean-up job and restoration has been more thorough: other than damage found in archival footage and clips from other films I don’t recall any stand-out issues within the rest of the film.
The digital transfer itself also, not so surprisingly, looks significantly better. Contrast is pretty strong, with fairly rich blacks (though I can’t say they ever look to be truly pure) and a nice balance in the gray levels, all of which aid in the film’s darker sequences, specifically the opening. Detail levels are high throughout, even during those darker moments with nothing appearing to get crushed out, and depth looks superb. Edges are clean and the image is fairly sharp throughout. In all it’s an impressive new presentation and well worth the upgrade over the DVD. 9/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Criterion carries over most of what was found on the old DVD, though not everything. Peter Cowie’s audio commentary makes the cut, 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 also carries over a few interviews, 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.
Criterion then includes a new interview with François Thomas. Thomas first talks to an extent about how the production came together and its original aim (a short documentary along the lines of Night and Fog), how it developed into a fiction narrative, and then the casting. He then talks about the film’s structure, its editing, and its impact. At 26-minutes it’s not a bad scholarly addition, though Cowie’s commentary is far more insightful, touching on some of the same things here.
Also new to this edition: Professor Tim Page then talks about the film’s music in Memory and Meaning: The Music of “Hiroshima mon amour,” going over the oddness of the score and talking about how it can go against what’s happening on screen. This is then followed by Revoir “Hiroshima,” an 11-minute interview between cinematographer Renatto Berta and restorer David Pozzi. Here the two talk about the extensive process of restoring the film and how it now looks digitally, Berta liking how the blacks turned out in the digital presentation. The two actually also talk a bit about digital photography.
Criterion ports over most of the booklet from the DVD edition. Kent Jones’ essay is here, giving 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. (Nothing has really changed in the essay in comparison to what was in the DVD’s booklet other than the footnotes, which have been worked into the main body of the essay in parenthesis.) The booklet also features the same 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. I found this addition to be of great value in the original DVD’s booklet so I’m glad they carried it over to this edition.
Unfortunately the booklet is missing a few things: it’s missing a short piece about composer Giovanni Fusco along with two brief biographies (or “portraits”) of the two main characters written by the film’s writer, Marguerite Duras. Speaking of Duras the disc is missing one fairly significant feature: the video feature going over a sample of annotations written by Duras, offering insights into characters and some of the actions in the film. The disc is also missing the DVD’s isolated effects and music track. Why all of these things are missing from this release I can’t really say.
Despite the missing features, which were all really good additions on the previous DVD, Criterion still provides a superb array of material. The original edition was one of my favourites at the time as it really opened the film up to me after my first viewing, which admittedly left me in bewilderment. Though I do miss the Duras material from the old DVD the new supplements are all rather strong and worth going through. For people new to the film this material is invaluable. 9/10