Muriel, or The Time of Return, Blu-ray (1963/2016)

Some critics consider this to be the best film Resnais ever did.

Muriel, or The Time of Return, Blu-ray (1963/2016)

Director: Alain Resnais
Cast: Delphine Seyrig, Jean-Pierre Kerien, Nita Klein
Cinematographer: Sacha Vierny
Studio: Argos/Janus/The Criterion Collection 824 (7/19/16)
Video: 1.66:1 for 16:9 screens, 1080p HD color, remastered
Audio: French, PCM mono
Subtitles: English
Extras: Excerpt from 1980 TV documentary Une approache d’Alain Resnais, Excerpt from 1969 interview with Delphine Seyrig, 1963 interview with composer Hans Werner Henze, New interview with film scholar Francois Thomas, Theatrical trailer, Printed booklet with essay by film scholar James Quandt
Length: 116 min.
Rating: ****1/2

This was Resnais’ follow-up to Last Year at Marienbad. The first thing different I noted about the two was that in that film there was no smoking or drinking and in this one everybody does both, like most French films. Again, it’s a reflection on the nature of time, a major interest of Resnais. There’s a lot of sub rosa stuff reflecting France’s recently-ended war in Algeria, much as some U.S. films of the time touched on the Vietnam conflict. Resnais leaned toward the avant-garde in music for his films, and the interesting concept of Muriel is that its Henze score has operatic-style arias but we are not supposed to hear or understand the lyrics at all.

The story is inventively edited with some audio which fails to match the video and vice versa. The political and personal realities of the characters are clearly presented, and though they are mostly ordinary characters one gets into their transcendential thoughts and actions. They are generally having a hard time in their city being rebuilt after being nearly destroyed in WWII. Muriel is the Algerian girlfriend of the young son of the main couple in the film, who has just returned (greatly affected) from his service in Algeria, and has a little separate room where he works on his films and slides from Algeria. We only see her briefly towards the end of the film.

I still prefer Hiroshima Mon Amour, but this one is certainly worth viewing.

—John Sunier

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