You must watch the 1959 French film Hiroshima Mon Amour before you die. That is a direct order. A masterpiece by Alain Resnais, who also directed Night and Fog (1955), Hiroshima Mon Amour helped kick off the French New Wave, and was also famous for being the first film to explore the use of mini-flashbacks, which are now standard film fare, to explore memory, forgetfulness, and relationships.
Echoing Resnais’ earlier film, Night and Fog, which contains some of the most important documentary footage from the Nazi concentration camps in film history, Hiroshima Mon Amor starts with documentary footage from Hiroshima, woven intricately into the complex love story of an affair between a French actress and a Japanese architect. I found the fusion of documentary and fiction into one seamless narrative to be fascinating, since I work in both fiction and documentary myself.
The film is open-ended. It doesn’t leave you with all the answers. In fact, you probably will end the film with more questions than you had at the beginning, which is what I love about it. Art doesn’t have to be about getting on a soapbox and telling your audience what to think. More often than not, I gain more from art that drives me to think and find answers for myself, rather than lobbing some trite cookie-cutter solutions at me. Hiroshima Mon Amour is a film to start you on a path of self-reflection. The most important knowledge we can have is self knowledge. And in telling a very personal story between two conflicted lovers, Resnais touches on the very universal feelings and struggles that all of us humans must face.