The Resnais Archipelago

Over six decades, French film director Alain Resnais (1922-2014) has built one of the most original and admired cinematographic oeuvres of post World War II. He also left a major imprint on several generations of filmmakers in France and the rest of the world. The author of nearly 30 short films and documentaries, and 20 feature films, Resnais came to international prominence at an early stage of his career with epoch-making works such as the documentary Night and Fog (1955), and the feature film Hiroshima mon amour (1959). Resnais’ cinema has constantly explored the various modes of cinematic modernism, while offering reflections on the main traumas that have shaped the 20th century: World War II (the Holocaust, the atom bomb), colonization and decolonization (Algerian War), contemporary warfare (Vietnam War).

You can read more on Resnais’s life and works in these three obituaries:

The Resnais Archipelago invites for an interdisciplinary dialogue. With its multifaceted geography, the archipelago evokes the complex topographies of Resnais’s creative universe. His conception of the cinematic medium inherently calls for crossovers between genres, styles, and art forms, and eludes the delimitations between high and low cultures. Collaboration was paramount in Resnais’ artistic work, whether with visual artists (Jacques Saulnier, Enki Bilal…), and writers, such as Alain Robbe-Grillet and Marguerite Duras who count among the most important French writers of the 20th century. In that regard, The Resnais Archipelago invites to a similar collaborative approach for revisiting his oeuvre and legacies.

Robert Benayoun, Alain Resnais, Arpenteur de l’imaginaire, Stock, Paris, 1980.

Jean-Luc Douin, Alain Resnais, La Martinière, Paris, 2013.

Jean-Louis Leutrat and Suzanne Liandrat-Guigues, Alain Resnais: liaisons secrètes, accords vagabonds, Cahiers du Cinéma, Paris, 2006.

René Prédal, L’Itinéraire d’Alain Resnais, Lettres Modernes, 1996.

François Thomas, L’Atelier d’Alain Resnais, Flammarion, Paris, 1989.

Emma Wilson, Alain Resnais, Manchester University Press, 2009.

The Resnais Archipelago project collaborates with two French institutions: the Cinémathèque Française (Paris) and the Université Paris VII-Diderot.

A pioneer institution for the archiving of cinema, the Cinémathèque Française houses a library and a museum, both founded by film critic and historian of cinema Henri Langlois. The Cinémathèque’s archival resources offer an ideal point of entry to the complex machineries and creative laboratories behind cinematic artifacts. The collections related to Resnais consist notably of costumes (Chanel, Yves Saint-Laurent…), scale models, art works and drawings by the set designer Jacques Saulnier, drawings by Agostino Pace, and hundreds of set photographs from Resnais’s films such as Hiroshima and Last Year at Marienbad. The Resnais collections were recently complemented by legacy to the Cinémathèque of the personal archives of Sylvette Baudrot, Resnais’ continuity editor: this collection includes many technical documents recording the making of numerous films (annotated scripts, correspondence, journal clips …).

In collaboration with the Cinémathèque, Prof. Emmanuelle André and Dr. Frédérique Berthet (Université Paris VII-Diderot) have launched a special path for the Master d’Etudes Cinématographiques. Entitled “Archives and the Future of Images” [Archives et Devenirs de l’image] it investigates the filmic archive as document, and the archiving as a critical gesture. A first series of students’ works led by the Master has provided an ideal ground for the implementation of a series of workshops and lectures on Resnais’s archives.

The Resnais Archipelago invites students and scholars to explore the new possibilities offered by digitization in film studies; to open up a series of reflections on the increasing access to films and cinematic archives through digital tools.

While archiving process and archival research have been historically and epistemologically at the core of literary studies, they are relatively recent in the history of cinema. Filmic archives radically question the textual paradigm of archives, as they include many other media, such as reels, photographs, models, drawings, costumes and accessories. The advent of digitization of images and the constitution of digital libraries offers new horizons for collecting, cataloguing, preserving and restoring the film heritage, while proposing new scholarly approaches for its study.

    (1) To engage in theoretical and practical reflections on the nature of filmic archives and the impact of digitization, through a series of talks. To usher in innovative pedagogical structures via video-link seminars.

    The organization in February 2015 of a video-link workshop on Alain Resnais’s aesthetics of repetition in L’Année dernière à Marienbad with the participation of Prof. Emmanuelle André at Duke University and Prof. Diane Arnaud at Université Paris VII-Diderot, has created a dialogue between students and professors on both sides of the Atlantic.

    (2) To lead to a pedagogical and curatorial work on Alain Resnais with the help of digital tools.

    In 2014-2015, the seminar “Archives and the Future of Images” at the Cinémathèque Française, co-taught by Professors Emmanuelle André (Paris VII-Diderot) and Anne-Gaëlle Saliot (Duke), involved a group of students on Alain Resnais’ archives, and set up the ground for a virtual exhibition on Resnais. The best research projects can be accessed through the DuDiDoc platform, a shared platform between Duke and Paris-Diderot launched in 2015 that offers a forum for graduate students, gives information about partnerships between both university, and present research news and activities.

    (3) To organize an international conference, The Resnais Archipelago.

    Drawing from a wide range of disciplinary approaches, the conference (29-31 October 2015, Duke University) will address Resnais’s cinematic oeuvre from the New Wave to the present, and will as well host the virtual exhibit of Resnais’s archives.

The conference intends to (re)map the “Resnais archipelago” by tracing Resnais’s numerous sources of influences and legacies, and his impact on the evolution of cinematic modernism. It will foster an interdisciplinary dialogue by participants from different disciplines in the humanities and social sciences: film studies, critical theory, cultural studies, contemporary history, new media, museum studies, architecture, history of art, musical studies, theatre studies, psychoanalysis, modern languages, and philosophy.

Click here to access the conference website.

Oriane Sidre, student in the Masters program, Archives et Devenir des Images, Inversité de Paris VII-Diderot, 2014-15

  • created a virtual exhibition drawing a parallel between the films Hiroshima mon amour (1959) and Les Herbes folles (Wild Grass, 2008).

Virtual exhibition:

Description of work:

Nina Da Silva, student in the Masters program, Archives et Devenir des Images, Inversité de Paris VII-Diderot, 2014-15

  • created a video-game out of the game played in the film L'année dernière à Marienbad (Last Year at Marienbad, 1961) by the characters. This is a reflection on cinema as an interactive and structural game through the use of archives.

Sophie Gangloff, student in the Masters program, Archives et Devenir des Images, Inversité de Paris VII-Diderot, 2014-15

  • worked on Resnais's construction of an utopia in in his film La vie est un roman (Life is a Bed of Roses, 1983) through a close study of his use of a gigantic scale model in the film.

Camille Chanod, student in the Masters program, Archives et Devenir des Images, Inversité de Paris VII-Diderot, 2014-15

  • conducted a work on the concept of the archive as an aesthetic space. She worked only partially on Resnais (L'année dernière à Marienbad).