While making a film in Japan, a French actress has an affair with a Japanese architect. As their relationship unfolds, the story of her life in occupied France as the lover of a German soldier, as well as her subsequent condemnation as a collaborator, is interwoven with his horrific experiences as a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Both are married, to all appearances happily so, yet they are drawn to each other in subtle, unspoken ways. Director Alain Resnais's images and screenwriter Marguerite Duras's words present the story in a series of searing flashbacks, brief vignettes that sometimes leave the viewer unsure whether the date is 1959 or 1945. This jumbling of time produces a sense of timelessness, of course, but it also impresses one with the contingent nature of reality and, most importantly, truth. The two lovers, knowing their relationship is fleeting, challenge and soothe each other in equal measure, so as to savor every moment they have together. This lack of a traditional narrative structure, combined with the understated performances by Emmanuèle Riva and Eiji Okada in the lead roles, disturbed audiences in 1959, leaving many with the idea that Resnais, who had only recently turned to fiction features after a distinguished career directing documentaries (among them, 1955's Nuit et brouillard), was either incompetent or hopelessly pretentious. Time has proved otherwise, and Resnais's subsequent body of work has more than rewarded the close attention of sympathetic viewers.
Publication excerpt from In Still Moving: The Film and Media Collections of the Museum of Modern Art by Steven Higgins, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2006, p. 232.