A French science fiction slash time travel film with a hint of the New Wave, Alain Resnais’ Je T’aime, Je T’aime (1968) is a mysterious masterclass in beautiful direction and performances. Its synopsis is as follows:
Recovering from an attempted suicide, a man is selected to participate in a time travel experiment that has only been tested on mice. A malfunction in the experiment causes the man to experience moments from his past in a random order. (source)
Prolific French director Alain Resnais is also responsible for such beautiful works of cinema as Last Year At Marienbad (1961), Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) and Night and Fog (1955). It is clear from his filmography that he specialises in films that are contemplative and mysterious, focusing on the internal world of his characters and their perceptions of the world around them; as well as brilliantly shot and brutally honest documentary films. And Je T’aime, Je T’aime is no exception to the rule, being both a mysterious film, and an honest one. This is the kind of film that you ponder about both whilst watching, and after its conclusion.
Although this is technically a film about time travel, it’s worth noting that Je T’aime, Je T’aime is most notably a film about time travel gone wrong. The malfunction of the experiment is crucial to the telling of the story, with the weave and weft of the fabric of time giving us a little more information as each memory is shown. The story is told a repetitive manner, revealing more information as the memories are repeated in seconds or minutes at a time in a disjointed and seemingly random manner; and as our protagonist, Claude (Claude Rich), tries to understand his own situation whilst the machine provides him periodic respite from the prison of his memories. All throughout, Resnais’ direction is stellar, with beautiful cinematography by Jean Boffety. Resnais’ story works so well with Boffety’s creation of a dreamy landscape that becomes corrupted with nightmarish memories as the story progresses. However, it’s the editing by Albert Jurgenson and Colette Leloup that is truly amazing.
Anchoring the story are wonderful performances by Claude Rich, as the overtly charming and conflicted Claude Ridder, and Olga Georges-Picot as the quiet and soulful Catrine. Claude’s motivation to undergo the human time travel experiment appears to be to see Catrine again, one last time… but what happened for him to lose Catrine in the first place? This is one of the many mysteries of the film. The two interact in such an authentic manner which borders on slight melodrama at times, however the two are always watchable, and always compelling, particularly as we learn more about both of their characters. These performances are coupled with a witty and sharp screenplay that, to its credit, doesn’t try to educate us on time travel; rather, it leaves this as a mystery to both the audience and its protagonist.
All in all, I’m glad I chose Je T’aime, Je T’aime for my Blindspot series this year. As a fan of French New Wave films, this one is a little bit different in comparison to the rest, but it retains the charm, general themes, and cinematographic techniques of its period. If anything, it’s mostly very interesting to see a time travel film done differently, where there is a clear problem and all of the characters are at a loss as to how to fix it. To a certain extent, Je T’aime, Je T’aime is also about the corruption of memories by complex emotions and traumatic events, and the impact of this on recollection and reintegration of memories. The rhythm and flow of this film is mesmerising. Highly recommended.
Watch the trailer here.