Saturday, July 24, 2010

Toute la memoire du monde

One might think a short film about a library could only be dry, but you should never discount the fertile imagination of Alain Resnais. Toute la memoire du monde, a 1956 short from Resnais, turns France’s Bibliotheque Nationale into a filmmaker’s playground of corridors and shadows, littered with impassive statues watching over little anonymous people who scuttle about like beetles. The institution—made into something enchantingly unreal by Resnais’ prowling camera—is alternately fortress, prison, hospital, and hive, filled with “paper-crunching pseudo-insects” (the film's charming description of readers). The collective memory of mankind is regarded with awe and even a touch of dread. There's a tone of droll wonder that is nicely accentuated by Maurice Jarre’s playfully sinister score and Remo Forlani’s witty script. The seeds of the feature-length masterpieces Resnais would make a few years later are found here, but this spryly intelligent short is more than a dry run for Hiroshima Mon Amour and Last Year at Marienbad. It is a startling piece of work in its own right, bursting with humour and insight, dropping small gems of lyrical wit along the way (the card left behind when a book is checked out is “its ghost,” the syringe used to squirt glue into damaged volumes “inoculates” the book). Does the secret of happiness lie buried within one of these haunted tomes, as the film suggests? Perhaps—or perhaps you need look no farther than this intensely pleasurable little film, which dexterously excavates the mystical from the mundane.

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