Je T'aime, Je T'aime June 18, 2021

DIRECTED BY

Alain Resnais

 

STARRING

Claude Rich

Olga Georges-Picot

Anouk Ferjac

RATED

NR

RELEASED IN

1968

 

RUNNING TIME

1 Hr., 31 Mins.

F

rench director Alain Resnais frequently ruminated in his movies on the fragmented nature of memory and the unexpected ways it can inform our present. His most famous films, 1959’s Hiroshima, Mon Amour and 1961’s Last Year at Marienbad, gave unforgettable — albeit sometimes maddeningly enigmatic — life to the preoccupation. His Je T’aime, Je T’aime (1968) carries on in this narrative tradition but has a more

explicitly science-fiction bent. After attempting suicide, a heartbroken Parisian named Claude (Claude Rich) is recruited by a cadre of scientists to participate in a bold experiment. Recently, this group has found a way to send subjects back in time, though only a minute at a time; the team has thus far only tested on rodents, and is ready for a human subject. The scientists can’t guarantee Claude’s safety — they know that if he were a rat he would have a 100 percent chance of surviving — but Claude, family- and friend-less, decides to partake anyway, remaining open-minded even after being locked in a questionable machine that exteriorly looks like a blobfish and interiorly a hollowed-out stack of dinner rolls. 

 

The experiment, naturally, doesn’t go as planned. Claude swims through his memory banks for far longer than a minute; rather than relive the glow of one far-gone moment in time, he reenters several, most of them involving his relationship with a terminally ill woman named Catrine (Olga Georges-Picot). Theirs was a committed and loving romance, but it was generally hampered by Catrine’s ceaseless pessimism. We discover, later in the movie, that Claude’s suicide attempt was rooted in an unlivable, paradoxical frustration: that even though it was mostly painful and frustrating living with Catrine, a life without her was far worse. As our protagonist wanders through his memories — sometimes switching to a new one so abruptly that he could blink and miss a previous shift — he is never allowed to be active in what’s happening. Unlike many time-travel movies, his present-day self can’t remix the past and thus alter the present. He is instead made to passively relive, with uncomfortable clarity, the moments that have long tormented him, as if he were manning a surveillance room where the cameras monitor his life.

 

Je T’aime, Je T’aime’s sometimes jarring formal structure functions as a brilliant evocation of memory and how its numerous parts can interrupt our current life at any moment, sometimes to a grating degree. But it has some 

trouble with just-as-hauntingly bringing authentic-feeling emotional life to the relationship at its center. Because we do not see the full arc of the romance, and because what we do see is represented achronologically and in short bursts, we have a hard time getting emotionally pulled in, even though our empathy should be, given that we are moving through time alongside the main character, almost scarily attuned to the person to whom we’re offering it.

 

Still, the film is poignantly observant; its tragic conclusion made me think about how inextricable sadness is from the very nature of remembering. When a scientist concludes that he and his team will never get Claude back (he has been “consumed by his memories” by the end of the film), I thought about how we can apply that remark — never getting *that* person back — to ourselves any time we’re caught up in remembrances of the past. We’re technically always dying, shedding old versions of ourselves and our lives as time marches forward. Memory is sometimes the only evidence we have of that person existing; sometimes we wish we could somehow resurrect a different version of ourselves, a long-past time and place. But we’re doomed to continue accruing regret and romanticizing much of what we’ve endured to get to our present; we won’t know if we’re currently experiencing the high point of our lives until it’s become far away enough to become rosy. “When you feel good, that is frightening,” Olga says mid-movie. “You know you’ll lose everything someday — it’s barely bearable.” B+