The Hedgehog Review

The Hedgehog Review: Vol. 16 No. 3 (Fall 2014)

I Loved You, I Loved You: A Farewell to Art

Alexander Zubatov

Reprinted from The Hedgehog Review 16.3 (Fall 2014). This essay may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission. Please contact The Hedgehog Review for further details.

The Hedgehog Review

The Hedgehog Review: Fall 2014

(Volume 16 | Issue 3)

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
—T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets (1945)

Word is that Alain Resnais, the great French New Wave auteur who passed away last March at the ripe, old age of ninety-one, but who had remained an active filmmaker to the very end, was at the time of his death “working” on a shot-for-shot “remake” of Je t’aime, je t’aime, his feverish 1968 tongue-in-cheek exploration of his two enduring themes, time and memory. I put “working” and “remake” in quotes because Resnais, by all accounts, meant “shot-for-shot” still more literally than Gus Van Sant did in executing his widely panned 1998 shot-for-shot re-shoot of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho from 1960. Resnais, in contrast to Van Sant, was working with his own material, and so he had a luxury unavailable to Van Sant: The shot-for-shot remake of Je t’aime, je t’aime was to be nothing more than a release of the same, exact film that came out in 1968, with, at most, a new date rolled out at the end of the credits.

But what, on Van Sant’s part, may have appeared something of a pointless joke that took itself too seriously was, in the hands of Resnais, this contemporary master of time and memory, nothing less than a perfect parting shot, which—his unfortunate passing in the interim notwithstanding—we will have the glorious opportunity to experience just as it was conceived and intended when the “new” version of Je t’aime, je t’aime hits theaters. Resnais had laid the groundwork by first working with archival houses to secure a preparatory re-release of the “original” film (which I was lucky enough to catch at Film Forum in New York in February 2014), the idea being that one should view the re-release as a film made in 1968 and, some months later, perhaps, the shot-for-shot “remake” as a film made in 2014.

The ultimate irony of this approach is that we are routinely treated, with no irony intended, to a steady stream of remasters and re-releases which record labels and movie studios market by means of the sundry nominal, cosmetic touchups they use to justify the accompanying price tag. Resnais steered clear of such empty gestures. In what may well have been a conscious channeling of Jorge Luís Borges’s fictional literary critic Pierre Menard, who, as Borges tells it, rewrote Don Quixote verbatim, but from his own twentieth-century perspective, altering in the process not Cervantes’s words but, rather, their meaning, Resnais’s “remake” is transparent in being about nothing other than itself, or, rather, about the distance between itself and its earlier self. To get a handle on what exactly that distance is, and, more important, why it should matter to us all, even to those who have never heard of this film and its legendary director—still better known for such art-house sensations as Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) and Last Year at Marienbad (1961)—permit me to take a brief excursion into the film itself.

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Alexander Zubatov, a practicing attorney in New York City, is an essayist whose work has appeared in The Fortnightly Review, The Montréal Review, Senses of Cinema, The New English Review, and other journals and publications.

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Published three times a year by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, The Hedgehog Review offers critical reflections on contemporary culture—how we shape it, and how it shapes us.

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