In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Alain Resnais

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Resnais, Auteurism, and the French New Wave
  • Philosophy and Theory
  • Intermediality and Collaboration
  • Early Documentaries (1948–1958)
  • Nuit et brouillard (1955)
  • Hiroshima mon amour (1959)
  • L’Année dernière a Marienbad (1961)
  • Muriel, ou le temps d’un retour (1963)
  • Films 1966–1977
  • Films 1980–1992
  • Films 1993–2014

Cinema and Media Studies Alain Resnais
Maria Flood
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 June 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0290


Alain Resnais (b. 1922–d. 2014), born in Vannes, France, is one of the great cinematic innovators of the 20th and 21st centuries. In a career that spanned nearly seventy years and included nineteen feature films and more than twenty documentaries, Resnais produced an exceptional range of films that encompass a cross-section of genres and time periods. From the early commissioned documentaries, including Toute la mémoire du monde (1956), to his later explorations of the genres of the melodrama in Mélo (1986) or the musical in On connaît la chanson (1997), Resnais consistently engaged with, and moved beyond, cinematic conventions. Perhaps his most well-known works resist generic classification altogether: Hiroshima mon amour (1959) and L’Année dernière et Marienbad (1961) can be described as works that treat the question of memory, and of cinematic time itself. Resnais’s work is resolutely engaged with the political and social contexts of his time, and many of his early films tackle the most grimly iconic atrocities of the 20th century: the bombing of Guernica (Guernica, 1950), the Holocaust (Nuit et brouillard, 1955), the bombing of Hiroshima (Hiroshima mon amour), and the question of torture during the French-Algerian War (Muriel, 1963). These films treat the complex intersections of memory and trauma that marked France and Europe after World War II, and they are infused with a profound pathos and ethical sensibility that is particular to Resnais. This article charts the different facets of Resnais’s work, adopting a broadly chronological approach that highlights the major films, as well as Resnais’s relation to the New Wave, philosophy, and intermediality and collaboration.

General Overviews

There are many useful overviews of Resnais’s work. Armes 1968, Kreidl 1978, Sweet 1981, Prédal 1968, and Bounoure 1974 treat the early films, up to and including the 1960s and 1970s, while Prédal 1996 and Wilson 2006 also examine the films of the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. Some of these monographs adopt a thematic perspective: Benayoun 1980 and Monaco 1978 consider the question of imagination, and Wilson 2006 looks at memory and the senses in Resnais’s work. Resnais gave many interviews about his work over the course of his career, and many of these are collected in the Goudet 2002 Positif dossier, which also contains many excellent short readings of various films. The special edition of Contre bande (Special Issue: Alain Resnais) also brings together a range of French criticism on the director. Liandrat-Guigues and Leutrat 2006 adopts an all-encompassing approach that successfully situates Resnais’s work within his broader interests in literature, cartoons, theater, painting, and music.

  • Armes, Roy. The Cinema of Alain Resnais. London: Zwemmer, 1968.

    A concise early work that provides some useful biographical information and close readings of Resnais’s work, from the early documentaries to Je t’aime, je t’aime. The book also includes a detailed filmography, films stills, and on-set photographs.

  • Benayoun, Robert. Alain Resnais: Arpenteur de l’imaginaire. Paris: Stock/Cinéma, 1980.

    A lively and meticulous account of Resnais’s work up to 1980, paying great attention to biography, form, and intertextuality. This book usefully includes an appendix of interviews with Resnais and Rémo Forlani, among others.

  • Bounoure, Gaston. Alain Resnais (Cinéma d’aujourd’hui 5). Paris: Seghers, 1974.

    An accessible, convincing, and subjective early account of Resnais’s work up to the mid-1970s, with useful sections comparing the themes of Resnais’s documentaries with motifs found in later works.

  • Goudet, Stéphane, ed. Positif, revue de cinéma: Alain Resnais. Paris: Gallimard, 2002.

    A comprehensive, indispensable anthology of the cinema journal Positif’s writings on Resnais from 1956 to 2002. It includes a fascinating selection of writings on Resnais’s filmic career, including the later films, with sections by François Thomas, Robert Benayoun, and Jean-Louis Leutrat, as well as several interviews with Resnais about his films.

  • Kreidl, John Francis. Alain Resnais. Boston: Twayne, 1978.

    An impressively detailed early work that traces the evolution of Resnais’s cinematic style through the major fiction films. It devotes two chapters to the history and politics surrounding the creation of Muriel.

  • Liandrat-Guigues, Suzanne, and Jean Louis Leutrat. Alain Resnais: Liaisons secrètes, accords vagabonds. Paris: Cahiers du Cinéma, 2006.

    An expansive and somewhat personal book on Resnais, replete with rich color photographs of on-set filming, written by two of the most renowned French critics of his work. The authors adopt an all-encompassing approach that successfully situates Resnais’s work within his broader interests in literature, cartoons, theater, painting, and music.

  • Monaco, James. Alain Resnais: The Rôle of Imagination. London: Secker & Warburg, 1978.

    An early writing on Resnais that offers a clear and readable overview of his major films. The book also presents an interesting discussion of Resnais’s “nonfilms,” works the director planned but never completed.

  • Prédal, René. Alain Resnais. Paris: Lettres Modernes, 1968.

    A useful work that adopts a broadly psychoanalytic and thematic approach to Resnais’s work and addresses the significance of silent cinema, musicals, and cartoons to the director’s vision. It also includes some excellent interviews with Resnais conducted by Jacques Belmans and Jacques Sternberg.

  • Prédal, René. L’Itinéraire d’Alain Resnais. Paris: Lettres Modernes, 1996.

    A detailed and memorable formal and thematic delineation of Resnais’s work, with excellent close readings and a fine discussion of the later films.

  • Special Issue: Alain Resnais. Contre Bande 9 (2003).

    A special issue of the journal bringing together some incisive French criticism of the director.

  • Sweet, Freddy. The Film Narratives of Alain Resnais. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1981.

    A clear and accessible early work that takes into account the significance of Resnais’s collaborations with Alain Robbe-Grillet and Jean Cayrol.

  • Wilson, Emma. Alain Resnais. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2006.

    A far-reaching, thoughtful, and accessible approach to Resnais’s oeuvre, and currently the most up-to-date overview monograph. Wilson adopts a chronological approach, and combines detailed close readings with more general reflections on the political, ethical, and aesthetic implications of Resnais’s works, with a particular focus on memory and the senses.

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