Alain Resnais, one of the key figures in the European "art cinema" of the 1960s and an enormously productive and versatile filmmaker for over five decades, has died. He was 91.
As a child, Resnais suffered from asthma, which was serious enough to keep him out of school. Like many future artists and writers, he plunged himself into the world of literature. In his teens he made home movies with a camera his parents gave him as a birthday gift. He was fascinated with all sides of the arts, from the surrealists to the popular theater, and he hoped to become an actor on the stage. In the mid-1940s, while working as an actor, he continued to explore film, making shorts that quickly brought him success.
Resnais first came to international attention in 1955 with "Night and Fog", a documentary about Nazi concentration camps. It was one of the first films to tackle the subject, and Resnais used techniques that for the time were quite unusual for a documentary, mixing black and white archival stills with new color footage of the abandoned camps.
His first feature film, "Hiroshima Mon Amour", is in one sense a meditation on the atomic bomb and its unthinkability, with a couple having a long conversation about memory and forgetting. It was an international sensation. Resnais also includes little "mini-flashbacks", single images from the past inserted into the scene. It was the a fascination with time and representation that would continue in his career.
Resnais' other most famous film is "Last Year at Marienbad", which boldly fractures time and narrative. It's a film that for many people represents the height of European art cinema, elliptical and enigmatic.
For the next for decades, he remained a productive and versatile filmmaker. He continued to explore the relationship between film and the other arts, including a number of films about music and popular theater. He was strongly associated with many of the major French intellectuals of the second half of the 2oth Century, including Marguerite Duras, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Chris Marker and Agnès Varda.
Resnais continued making films for the next four decades, active to the end. His final film, "Aimer, boire et chanter" (Life of Riley) premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in February.