JE T'AIME, JE T'AIME (1968).
Director Alain Resnais' work has often focused on the subjects of Time, Memory and Loss, as evidenced by arthouse gems such as LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD, MURIEL and PROVIDENCE. In this instance, he also places Love in the center ring, and emerges with one of his loopiest (yet surprisingly accessible) films. Utilizing a conventional science fiction concept (time travel), he spins a uniquely tantalizing, intimate and enigmatic puzzle. Claude Rich stars as Claude Ridder, a writer who has recently attempted suicide; yet before he can leave the hospital, he's approached to be a test-subject at a mysterious research facility. All they ask is for one day of his time, and since he's got nothing else in life, he agrees. At their rural compound, Ridder learns that their research topic involves time itself and how to travel through it, and since their earlier experiments with mice seem to have succeeded, they now need a human subject. Claude is their man (because if it doesn't work, after all, the guy wanted to die in the first place), and their plan is to send him back into his own past -- exactly one year ago, for only one minute. The machine itself is marvelous creation; a lumpy, almost organic-looking chamber with rods jutting out of the top, which looks like a cross between a human brain and a Thanksgiving turkey. Inside it, Claude reclines in a giant beanbag chair. Unfortunately, the experiment goes out of control, and he finds himself bouncing between random moments of his life. Suddenly unstuck in time (a la SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE), Claude re-experiences snippets from his past, which mixes moments of love, doubt, confusion, happiness, and even day-to-day routine -- often in the form of tiny fragments, shuffled about or replayed like a scratched record. In the process, we slowly piece together his romance with the lovely but unpredictable Catrine (Olga Georges-Picot, best known to US-audiences as Countess Alexandrovna in Woody Allen's LOVE AND DEATH), why it ended, and how this led to his fateful suicide attempt. Meanwhile, the scientists running this botched experiment frantically try to retrieve him, even as Claude begins repeating moments from the beginning of this movie. The performances are all fine, but eventually take a backseat to the film's brilliantly-edited structure, which brings out a playfulness that's often lacking in Resnais' work. In the process, he creates an altogether different brand of sci-fi, which uses its technological backdrop for a deeper analysis of human existence, and forces the viewer to put the pieces in the correct order. Full of insight, humor and mystery, this transforms a human life into a patchwork of pure cinema, and deserves a spot next to Chris Marker's LA JETTE in your video collection.
© 1999 by Steven Puchalski.