The War is Over - Alain Resnais

Half a Century of Famous Films: The War is Over

One of the masters of French cinema, Alain Resnais established himself as the author of feature films in the 1960’s when the new wave became one of the most important tendencies in not just in terms of French but also world cinema. Therefore, lots of film-lovers think of him as a member of the new wave movement. New wave authors, such as Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol, were quite different amongst themselves and similar to them, Resnais was a modernist who radically changed the traditional film narration and looked for new forms of film expression. However, he was quite different from them. While most new wave authors began their careers as film critics and demanded a break up from the tradition, Resnais, who was a whole decade older, began his professional film career as an editor and the author of documentaries (such as the excellent and upsetting evocation of the Nazi camps Night and Fog (Nuit et brouillard, 1955). Therefore, his approach to making feature films also differed. The new wave directors advocated for author cinema, rejected the importance of the screenwriter’s role and despised “filmed literature”, Resnais found his way of breaking up from the traditional film storytelling in literature – the, at the time avant-garde, French new novel. By contrasting the visually attractive pictures and spoken sentences, he created a unique film world that directly communicated with the viewer’s conscious mind in a very autonomous way. That is why the success of his early films relies heavily on the screenplays written by the authors of the new novel - Marguerite Duras in Hiroshima, My Love, (Hiroshima mon amour, 1959), Alain Robbe-Grillet in Last Year in Marienbad (L'année dernière à Marienbad, 1961) and Jean Cayrol in Muriel (Muriel ou Le temps d'un retour, 1963).

For the film The War is Over (La guerre est finie, 1966) Resnais hired the famous Spanish writer who lived in Paris, Jorge Semprún. It was his first screenplay and it was immediately nominated for an Oscar so he continued to write excellent film screenplays frequently. Resnais thought he was a good candidate because he knew well the ambiance where the story took place and had his own experiences from the Spanish Civil War as well as life as a refugee because he opposed the fascist regime of the dictator Franco. Semprún’s father was a prominent politician who, together with his family, escaped to France just before the fascist won. With this film Resnais entered the area of the increasingly more popular political film of the 1960’s but unlike other filmmakers, he did not use it for a one-sided political engagement but rather to show personal drama of the protagonist who was a political activist. Yves Montand is excellent in the role of Diego, member of the banned Communist party in Spain, who lives in France but often travels to Spain using a false identity in order to organize protests against the fascist government. After a few decades of constant effort and danger, he starts to question whether it makes any sense to continue the fight. It seems to him that this fight might have become a myth of the former fighters against fascism and that in the 1960’s it was used merely as a symbol by the left parties to declare their correctness and conscience. Due to his doubt, felt mostly by his wife Marianne (Ingrid Thulin), he starts to part ways with his superiors who seem to understand everything only theoretically because they do not actually visit Spain. However, he decides to go on another mission to Spain and experiences real danger. At that moment Resnais turns the film in the direction of a thriller as well as a love drama; our hero becomes close with Nadine (Geneviève Bujold), young member of the anti-fascists who do not believe that the older generation is serious in their fight and that only terrorism can seriously threaten the fascist government.

By combining drama and thriller, love and political film, in his utterly mature modernist style, Resnais manages to create one of his best films. It is a complex piece, abundant in layers of meaning – it covers issues from the relationship to fascism and ways to fight it, across personal and love problems to generational differences and the question of overcoming them. (Tomislav Kurelec)