Culture | Making nothing from something

Silvia Kolbowski’s reimagining of French New Wave classic lacks potency of the original

In the world of film, there are few things more dangerous than the remake. The decision to take an artistic accomplishment and reinvent it to serve one’s own purposes – as an homage to the original work, to make it more “current,” or for any number of other reasons – is a risky one at best. While there is, of course, much more incentive to remake films of great fame and stature, the original brilliance will inevitably make it difficult to produce an adaptation of merit.

And this is the risk that artist Silvia Kolbowski takes in her short film adaptation, After Hiroshima Mon Amour. The original picture is one of the pioneering works of the post-war period and arguably the most crucial film in the inception of the French New Wave. Marguerite Duras’s powerful screenplay, coupled with Alain Resnais’s visionary use of time and flashback, creates a work that was revolutionary at its release and has maintained its reputation to this day. How does one remake something such as this?

Kolbowski’s approach is intriguing. Her 22-minute video composition mixes the screenplay and visuals of the opening sequence with reconstructions of pivotal scenes in the work and interjections of video footage taken from Iraq and post-Katrina New Orleans. She supplies a relatively constant script thst alternates between lines from the original screenplay and statements of her own – reducing Hiroshima Mon Amour in its entirety down to less than a quarter of the length of the antecedent. While Duras’s lines seem just as potent and profound when extracted from their original context, Kolbowski’s words seem to gloss over the complexities of the earlier work. She force-feeds her interpretation of the original to her audience in an attempt to set the stage for her somewhat predictable statements on war, violence, and love.

Atop of this continuous mesh of script and simplistic interpretation – Kolbowski at one point refers to the female protagonist’s decision to leave Hiroshima as “common cowardice” – are a series of reconstructions of important scenes in the original film. These contain extremely sparse dialogue, and make up the artist’s most successful articulation of an idea in the work.

The actors, though their delivery is occasionally quite dead (especially in English), bring a truly modern and international feel to the work, exporting the message of Hiroshima Mon Amour out of Japan and into the entirety of the modern world. And rightly so: the horror of war isn’t limited to its impact on a specific place and people, but is rather a universal tragedy. Yet the inconsistency in the dialogue in these scenes, linguistic and otherwise, makes the adaptation all that much less convincing – nevermind the artist’s too-direct and less-than-poetic articulations.

Unfortunately, Kolbowski does not seem to think these devices in and of themselves are enough for her to make her point, and in a further attempt to modernize the film, footage from post-Katrina New Orleans and war-torn Iraq are interspersed quite frequently. The difficulty that arises from putting footage of a natural disaster into a film that wants to make a statement about war weakens the overall message, turning a potentially powerful statement about war into just another critique of the Bush administration. Furthermore, the almost visually offensive shades of purple, yellow, and red that colour the piece are simply too jarring to be taken seriously.

This weekend, if you’re thinking about walking over to Concordia for the installation, save yourself the disappointment: rent Resnais and Duras’s brilliant film in the original, curl up on the couch, and make an evening of it. No middleman artistic interpretation necessary.


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