By Ray Schultz
Time Inc. was always known for producing fairly mainstream products. But it occasionally showed its avant garde side in its direct mail.
For example, in 1959 it sent a small film strip half a dozen frames from the movie Hiroshima Mon Amour.
Of course, the publisher sent many doo-dads and items to drive engagement in those days, including its famous red pencils. But the Hiroshima piece was daring, given the subject matter of the movie directed by Alain Resnais and written by Marguerite Duras.
My vague memory of seeing it decades ago—we walked in late—was that it was about an unnamed Japanese architect trying to seduce an unnamed French actress as they wander the eerie, neon-lit nightscape of Hiroshima 14 years after the atomic bombing.
As I learned recently after seeing it again, it’s not about that at all. Actually, the pair has already commenced a relationship. The question is: Will it go on from there, or will the woman played by Emmanuelle Riva return to France as planned?
At bottom, the film is about attraction, and some say about memory. But it is layered with moral ambiguity, even as it starts. As we view horrific film footage of the aftermath, the women talks about her visits to Hiroshima’s Peace Museum and her knowledge of the devastation.
“You saw nothing in Hiroshima,” the man played by Eiji Okada repeats, almost as a litany.
Of course she hasn’t. Even the man wasn’t there—he was in the army when the bomb was dropped—although his family was.
But the woman has had her own wartime experience in the French town of Nevers. She fell in love with a German soldier. He was killed, and she was shamed after the Germans were driven out by having her hair cut off in public.
By order of her parents, she snuck out of town and arrived in Paris just as the news about Hiroshima was breaking. People were happy: It meant the end of World War II.
Not so well understood at that time were the consequences for the residents of Hiroshima and the rest of the human race.
“Does the night never end in Hiroshima?” she asks.
“It never ends in Hiroshima,” he answers.
Rivas’ performance is especially shattering. At times, she seems to mistake the man in Hiroshima for her German soldier. But both characters are in turmoil.
Assuming they are separated, how will the two lovers, both of whom have spouses, remember each other? Will they at all? And if so, what will they call each other?
Alain Resnais, who also directed classics like Last Year in Marianbad, recently died. Eiji Okada, who starred in other great films like Woman in the Dunes, died in 1995. Rivas, at age 85, gave another stunning performance in Michael Haneke’s 2012 film Amour.
And Time Inc? Around the time of Hiroshima Mon Amour, it also sent several pages from Alan Drury’s novel Advise and Consent. It’s not clear whether these efforts pulled, or which of its great copywriters were involved. The company was not afraid to try.