A loose adaptation of Alain Robbe-Grillet’s genre of the French Nouveau Roman, Last Year in Marienbad has won numerous awards. As early as 1961, the year of its release, it won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. Two years later it was nominated for Best Film by the British Academy of Film and Television, and Robbe-Grillet’s screenplay was nominated for an Oscar. The exhibition “Last Year in Marienbad: A Film as Art” is the first exhibition to take a closer look at the film’s far-reaching influence on art, which continues to this day.
The radical nature of Last Year in Marienbad rests primarily in breaking down traditional structures of time, space, and reality. The avant-garde film, whose plot revolves around the question of whether the two main characters truly met at Marienbad the previous year, works with an artistic vocabulary in which form becomes content. The film’s geometric shapes, architectural lines, and repetition of compositional principles were clearly inspired by approaches typical to the visual arts. In fact, Resnais himself noted that “I would like to make a film that will look like a sculpture and sound like an opera.”
In addition to sculptures, installations, photographs, and videos, the exhibition also shows paintings and drawings. Legendary German artist Gerhard Richter’s nearly two-meter high work breaks down reality, which Richter depicts using photographs and magazine illustrations torn out of their original context. The film’s fractured narrative structure is reflected in a video by American artist Vito Acconci. Patrick Faigenbaum uses photography to create the illusion of portrait painting, which involves such long monotonous waiting that the subjects freeze into an impersonal, almost soulless pose. And the relationship between reality and illusion is explored in a set of photographs by Cindy Sherman and an object by Jeff Koons.
Many contemporary artists have made direct references to the iconic film’s aesthetic style. For the exhibition, British artist Marie Harnett created a series of small-scale, highly detailed drawings depicting dramatic scenes from the film. The drawings of Pablo Bronstein, a great admirer of the film, are equally meticulous in their detailed reproduction of architectural elements from the Baroque, Neoclassical, and postmodern periods.
The film has also had a strong impact on the fashion industry. The film’s costumes were designed by Coco Chanel, and Karl Lagerfeld’s 2011 spring collection on display at the Grand Palais in Paris was inspired by the film’s aesthetic, underscored by the architecture of the Baroque castle gardens.
The exhibition also offers a behind-the-scenes look at the film’s making through a set of historical documents, original scrips, and on-set photographs. But above all, audiences are introduced to the film’s main sources of inspiration. Works by Surrealist artists such as Giorgio de Chirico, Paul Delvaux and René Magritte are accompanied by the sculptures of Alberto Giacometti and the photographs of Eugène Atget. Atget’s images of the Versailles gardens create an immediate parallel to several scenes shot at the German castles of Schleissheim, Nymphenburg, and Amalienburg near Munich.
The exhibition Last Year in Marienbad: A Film as Art was originally shown at the Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany. In Prague, it has been expanded to include an installation by Ján Mančuška and an audio recording by Věra Linhartová. With its placement in the neo-Renaissance Rudolfinum, the exhibition engages in a new dialogue with the historical architecture of the exhibition spaces.