At the 22nd Venice International Film Festival in 1961, Alain Resnais held an audience captivated at the premiere of his latest cinematic masterpiece, Last Year at Marienbad. The director had already established himself as a prominent documentary maker, and with the release of his first feature film Hiroshima Mon Amour in 1959 came international fame. Last Year at Marienbad propelled him to even greater heights. At the Venice film festival that year, he scooped up the Golden Lion, the festival’s most prestigious prize and one of the most coveted in the industry.
On Wednesday this week in Venice, select crowd at this year’s festival sat down at sunset to the second premiere of Last Year at Marienbad, 57 years later, and the work was more spellbinding than ever. With the support of Chanel, a project led by StudioCanal and Hiventy saw the film fully digitized and restored using the well-preserved original negatives. The dust, scratches, and other flaws of a half-century of natural wear on the original film reel had been eradicated, and the soundtrack was honed to be pitch perfect.
The synopsis of Marienbad can be whittled down to a sentence: it’s the story of a woman (Delphine Seyrig) wooed by a man (Giorgio Albertazzi) who tries to convince her that she had recently promised to elope with him. He gives evidence to substantiate his claims. She is no longer sure if she can be the woman of his dreams and risk pursuing a future that could be as tragic as it is romantic. What makes it such a revelatory work is the way in which this relatively simple plot is conveyed. The labyrinthine corridors and sprawling grounds of the setting—an ancient Bohemian castle converted into a hotel—through which the characters roam, attempting to unknot their thoughts and emotions along the way, personify the human brain. The screenplay, by novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet, defies the laws of classical narrative formats, leaving the audience to put the pieces of the puzzle together and draw their own conclusions from the seemingly miscellaneous scenes.
Every one of these scenes has the quality of an Irving Penn or Richard Avedon photograph, and the languorous dramatic pauses allow plenty of time to absorb and appreciate the fashion. Seyrig’s dresses—an important clue in unlocking the film’s chronology—were designed by Coco Chanel herself and are so modern they could have been from the Fall 2018 Chanel Haute Couture collection. (The same collection from which Tilda Swinton chose her long black embroidered velvet dress for Wednesday’s premiere.)
After the screening, guests were whisked off to a private residence for an intimate dinner hosted by Chanel. Chloë Sevigny, dressed in a pink satin bustier mini-dress veiled with embroidered tulle and fringed with feathers, was one of the first to arrive for champagne cocktails and canapés in the walled garden of the 17th-century palazzo. Hot on her pearl-embellished heels were French actors Marine Vacth and Gaspard Ulliel, and English actor Naomi Watts, one of the jurors at this year’s festival.
Dinner was served in a opulent room on the first floor which boasted views over to Giudecca on one side and the garden on the other. Murano glass chandeliers cascaded from the ceiling and baroque and rococo artworks peered down from the walls—at least one Canaletto was spotted in the neighboring salon. On the menu was risotto with seaweed and buzara shrimps, and seabass with tomato and smoked mozzarella, followed by peach melba with meringue, yogurt and raspberry ice cream.
As the hour hand passed midnight, guests began to peel away. Some retired to their lodgings, others went for a moonlit canalside stroll, while the most valiant danced the night away at Bauer Hotel’s notorious B Bar. It all felt timeless.