Monday Movie: Je t’aime, je t’aime, by David Bax
Every Monday, we’ll highlight a piece of writing from our vaults. This article originally ran as a Home Video Hovel review.
Alain Resnais is probably best known for Last Year at Marienbad, which many hold up as a landmark of arthouse cinema and a few stubborn detractors view as the height of pretentiousness. For the latter crowd, Resnais’ Je T’aime Je T’aime takes his cerebral, anti-linear methodology and provides a science fiction hook to explain it.
Claude Ridder (Claude Rich), after recuperating from a filed suicide attempt, is recruited by a secret firm of scientists and asked to be the first human test subject in their time travel experiments. After all, with no close relations and a proven willingness to die, he’s the perfect subject should things go wrong. Claude goes along agreeably but soon finds himself unstuck, skittering through the fractured memories of his recent past with Catrine (Olga Georges-Picot), his great lost love.
Je T’aime Je T’aime certainly must have been an influence on Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Here, though, Claude doesn’t run frantically through his memories, trying to change things. He is a passive observer. Yet, somehow, Resnais imparts that his presence is effecting things. We return to certain moments, some of them milestones and some of them inconsequential. But they are not always the same. In exceedingly subtle ways, Resnais changes things. The camera moves more quickly, an actor look in a different direction, a line of dialogue is abridged. These changes are nearly imperceptible but they are felt nonetheless. Are Claude’s memories shifting or is his unseen presence actually altering the past?
There’s a good case to be made that it’s all in his head, especially once various memories start bleeding together (at one point, a woman in a bathtub appears in the middle of Claude’s office) and when actual reality and dream reality blend (like, you know, a man with the head of a fish). No matter how abstracted the story becomes, though, Resnais keeps returning to the scientists and their concern for Claude inside his testing pod. So there you go, haters. You can have a beautiful evocation and examination of the pain of love and you can have it all make sense if you want, too.