The film opens with an incredibly fast section of rapid cuts, accompanied by a strange soundtrack courtesy Georges Delarue, (perhaps as much a part of the Nouvelle Vague as any filmmaker). This rapid editing proves incredibly cinematic, and as an encapsulated piece of film perhaps works better than anything seen in Hiroshima Mon Amour, at least stylistically, alas its just a shame that this level of visual interest isn’t maintained throughout. Muriel reminds heavily of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Red Desert.
What is immediately apparent with Muriel is the manner with which Resnais approaches time and memory. Whilst he doesn’t respect time in the traditional manner, the way in which he does so could be said to be an appropriate one considering the direction the story takes. It is a story deeply concerned with the prospect of time and it doesn’t approach it in the usual or expected manner, that is to say that many a film dealing with this sort of subject would usually do so in the manner of using flashbacks. Instead we get a ‘jumping’ time scale, that flitters across time in a seemingly random manner, with no set rules outlining the length of time between scenes, or the length of a scene. Its rather confusing, or at least confused in the respect that its projecting the key themes of the story onto the screen. It is largely effective, but I would imagine the effect would work much better upon a second viewing.
To enforce the concept of the importance of time, clocks are seen in pretty much every scene. To add to this, whenever a clock isn’t obviously nearby, a character is likely to ask another one if they know what time it is. The use of repitition is apparent on other occasions too, most notably in the way in which Helene is seemingly constantly asking to borrow money. Another example would be the way in which each of the characters declares their intentions to leave the contextual environment of the relevant conversation.
One of the other themes is that of deceit. From the outset, due to the privy, objective view that we are given to each of the characters we know that at least several untruths are being appropriated. Characters are contradictory throughout, lying on several different levels. At the same time the film remains purposefully ambiguous and confusing, but in an assured enough manner to remain authoritative as apposed to ridiculous.
This all ties into the core concept of memory in a powerful way, with it perhaps reaching a pique with Bernard’s film about the protagonist Muriel, revealing her true identity (that has been the subject of numerous untruths itself). The use of voice over, combined with archive footage reminded heavily of the opening sequence of Hiroshima Mon Amour, with the later burning of the slide being a fairly blatant comment on the role of memory within Muriel, ou le temps d’un retour.
Adam Batty is the Editor of Hope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second, and can be found on Twitter.