As a matter of introduction, you might like to know that I come to this film already familiar with Casares’ “Invention of Morel”, and as an appreciator of The Quay’s “Piano Tuner of Earthquakes” based on the same book.
Robbe-Grillet already denied, along with Resnais any influence Casares’ book might have had on their story. But I suggest you believe otherwise. Naturally, their denial is part of the repeating-recording act that goes on here.
For starters, Casares’ book is about an escapee who ends up on an island populated with people he’s never seen before. He meets a woman there and falls in love with her, but like every one else, she does not seem to ‘see’ him. It turns out that all the inhabitants of the island are holograms projected by a mad scientist who for his own amusement keeps replaying the last week of their lives. Infatuated by this woman who seems to completely ignore him, our hero decides to enter the repeating-hologram-movie, and has to pay with his freedom for it.
Probably one of the greatest stories ever written on the nature of fabricated reality, and memory as the malleable material of identity and truth, fiction as a last resource, immortality in recording, and love as frozen unconsumed desire. Highly internal, therefore quietly etched into the soul of the reader, but with notions suited for film, especially today, with most of our visual imagination rooted in movies.
Resnais’ version is largely different in parts but similar in terms of constructed realities, and more specifically construction rooted in memory. In a resort castle/hotel, a man tries to convince a woman that they met a year before and are meeting again today as they had planned. This woman does not remember any of it…but the man’s insistence makes her confuse possible memories with fabricated ones. The film begins with a play inside the castle, a play about the same thing (or so it seems).
The Quay Bros’ made an interesting adaption of the book, truer than Resnais to the story elements of it. But in my opinion, their interest is more with matters of craft (they are puppet-makers after all). But Resnais here really understands the thematic in the story enough to reflect it in the visual storytelling. So when we watch this, there is no sense of linearity. Instead, a random and intuitive logic, similar to a logic of recall, seems to hold things together. Some scenes start in one place, and in mid-sentence continue in another setting, even maybe in another time period (maybe last year). Resnais would go on using this trick to incredible effect in later movies. But it started here, in its adequate place. It suggests the struggle of the woman’s forgetting and simultaneously the man’s urge to create those memories for her (or to induce a real remembrance).
You must truly read that book, and watch this movie, in order to enjoy a variety of other films where some of the protagonists create the reality we’re watching. Start with this, then “Vertigo”, through The Truman Show, add some DePalma (Snakeyes), and end things with Medem’s “Lucia”. Then watch Fincher’s latest, “Zodiac”, where the procedural detective story gets the modern self-referential treatment (that’s when the real-life author of the script is a character in the story).