Parentheses in Time: L’Année Dernière à Marienbad (1961) as Amorous Event

“Cinema is the art of playing with time.”
(Alain Resnais)[1]

“If art never ceases intersecting love, it is in the encounter, in the pure event, that it is finally grasped.”
(Alain Badiou)[2]

Alain Resnais’ cinema is as entwined with the question of time as are the lovers with each other in the opening scene of his and Marguerite Duras’ 1959 masterpiece, Hiroshima mon amour. Just as Hiroshima’s lovers are here disembodied and depersonalised in an anonymous embrace, so too Resnais’ cinema can be seen to establish its own anonymous time: a timeless time, a time which is paradoxically outside of time. Indeed, this is one of the more immediate ways by which we might understand Jacques Rivette’s famous observation, made at the time of Hiroshima’s initial release, that Resnais’ work constitutes “a parenthesis in time”.[3] For the ‘parenthesis’ in question does not simply refer to Hiroshima’s ostensible circularity (whereby “at the end of the last reel you can easily move back to the first, and so on”)[4] but highlights the film’s ‘timeless’ nature, its out-of-time-ness. It is this peculiarly ‘untimely’ aspect of Resnais’ cinema that I will examine in this essay, specifically with regard to his enigmatic (and equally circular) second film, L’Année Dernière à Marienbad (1961). Drawing on the philosophy of Alain Badiou and in particular his concept of the event, I will argue – contra Gilles Deleuze for example, who famously held that the film captures the idea of time itself [5] – that the whole of Marienbad is in fact situated within a temporal rupture, in the ‘cut’ between two heterogeneous times, namely, a pre- and post-evental time. Or again, I will argue that the film’s ‘timeless’ nature results foremost from its presentation of what Badiou would call an ‘amorous event’.

Of his second feature film Resnais famously claimed that it is “an open film which proposes to everyone an experience, a choice”, and indeed, Marienbad remains to this day something of a puzzle.[6] The film follows a man and a woman who meet at a social gathering in a baroque spa hotel. The man, X, attempts to convince the woman, A, that they met and had an affair the previous year in Marienbad (or perhaps Frederiksbad, or Karlstadt…), a claim that A steadfastly denies. [7] Further complicating X’s efforts to persuade A of their amorous past is the presence of another man, M, who we presume to be A’s husband (though this is never confirmed). At the level of its narrative, the film thus revolves around a central enigma, namely, whether or not X and A did in fact meet and have an affair the previous year. While the fact that this question ultimately remains unresolved has unsurprisingly been a point of consternation for many viewers, far more confounding are the experiments the film conducts at the level of its form. Indeed, Marienbad is ostensibly organised around a series of repetitions, where events, conversations, thoughts and actions are played out again and again, at times with only subtle variations. This theme extends as much to the central characters (who paradoxically replay an affair that may never have taken place) as to the hotel itself (which is depicted as an engulfing, labyrinthine structure of mirrors and baroque intricacy). Marienbad accordingly presents something of a mise-en-abîme, its credo being without doubt repetition and reflection. It is this peculiar structure that ensures Marienbad is a film in which time appears to stand still, seemingly forever caught in a single instant that stretches on to infinity.

Returning then to Rivette’s early assessment of Hiroshima mon amour as constituting a “parenthesis in time”, we cannot help but be struck by the fact that his words proved to be even truer of Resnais’ immediately subsequent film. On this point we would do well to consider Rivette’s final words on Hiroshima, in which he favourably compares Resnais to the great Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, inasmuch as:

with Resnais it is the same notion of the infinitesimal achieved by material means, mirrors face to face, series of labyrinths. It is an idea of the infinite but contained within a very short interval, since ultimately the ‘time’ of Hiroshima can just as well last twenty-four hours as one second.[8]

What interests us here is the fact that it is not Hiroshima but rather Marienbad which can be seen to capture the infinite in the instant (and thus “can just as well last twenty-four hours as one second”). As such, it is this second work, much more than the first, that constitutes a truly ‘timeless’ film. For one thing, it is in Resnais’ second film that we literally encounter the Borgesian “series of labyrinths” and “mirrors face to face” of which Rivette waxes lyrical. Suffice us to recall on this point the film’s celebrated opening sequence, in which a long, discontinuous tracking shot drifts along labyrinthine corridors (which the narrator describes as “endless”), passing mirrors mirroring mirrors (an effect Resnais intensifies later in the film by filming reflected and unreflected characters in the same shot), to finally arrive at a play which, in an overtly metafilmic gesture, echoes the film itself (together with the narrator’s preceding monologue). Moreover, time is literally effaced in Marienbad in a number of immediate ways. On a superficial level, we are never told in what period the action takes place, but rather can only infer from the characters’ dress and their environs (which the narrator enigmatically informs us “belong to the past”). Likewise, while one might suppose the film to be largely constructed of flashforwards and flashbacks, this is never made explicit, as various discrete and frequently contradictory times (rooms seem to shift location, dress and décor alter inexplicably, incongruous events take place simultaneously…) collide in a single and same present, seemingly defeating all hope of chronologisation.[9]

While this practice of simultaneously effacing and multiplying time might lead one to view Marienbad as an atemporal or even heterotemporal film, I think it makes more sense to conceive of the film as an intemporal (or inter-temporal) work. For as I will argue, Marienbad situates itself entirely within a temporal rupture – in the very ‘cut’ which cleaves one time from another – and as such can be seen to fall ‘between’ (plural) times. The film’s intemporality thus results from its being paradoxically excluded from time whilst simultaneously straddling multiple times. To argue this however I will first have recourse to the philosophy of Alain Badiou and his concept of the event.

Appearing to Disappear: Badiou’s Philosophy of the Event

Badiou’s philosophy has gained considerable currency in Anglophone academia in recent years. While the inaugural English translation of one of his works only appeared comparatively recently in 1999, the uptake of his philosophy since then has been swift and today a very respectable (and ever increasing) number of Badiou’s works are available in English, together with numerous collections of his writings, critical responses to his works, introductions to his philosophy and so on.[10] The sudden upsurge of interest in his thought is due in no small part to the fact that, positioning himself squarely against postmodern orthodoxy, Badiou holds that we are in no way condemned to a world ruled by the principle of repetition – where novelty is reduced to so many extensions, recyclings and superficial transformations of forms of knowledge that are already operating in the situation – but rather are eminently capable of radical invention. For in Badiou’s philosophy true innovation is not only possible, it is the only thing through which we might truly live.

Indeed, Badiou’s philosophy is at bottom nothing short of a rigorous attempt to think novelty itself; at one end, a thinking of how something new – and, crucially, universal – arrives in a world, and at the other of how real global change can come about. In his own words:

my unique philosophical question, I would say, is the following: can we think that there is something new in the situation, not outside the situation nor the new somewhere else, but can we really think through novelty and treat it in the situation? The system of philosophical answers that I elaborate, whatever its complexity may be, is subordinated to that question and none other.[11]

Key to this decidedly ‘novel’ philosophy is his concept of the event. An event, roughly speaking, is a localised and entirely unpredictable rupture with the order of things, involving the sudden arrival on the scene of a radically new element (an element whose address is, for complex reasons, immediately universal).[12] A single spark that ignites a political revolution, a new scientific theory compelling us to change our understanding of the world, an amorous encounter that turns your life upside down, a formal innovation which forces us to reassess the limitations as much as the possibilities of art: suddenly and unpredictably, something happens in the world and ruptures with its prevailing logic by pointing to a previously unimaginable possibility, something which had hitherto been impossible or unthinkable (as opposed to simply unconsidered).

Yet in spite of its potentially momentous effects, an event proves to be as rare and fleeting as it is fragile: a paradoxical puncture-hole in the fabric of the world, an event, if left unattended to, is all-too quickly patched up by the forces that dominate and govern the situation, forces which Badiou terms the ‘state’ of the situation and which essentially establish a regime of repetition.[13] In ‘interrupting repetition’ and thereby rupturing with the situation, an event is thus a fundamentally illegal occurrence, and as such its fate is to vanish as soon as it arises. As Badiou puts it in his recent Logics of Worlds, an event (or more precisely, an event’s material support, called its site) “is an ontological figure of the instant: it appears only to disappear”.[14] As such, if an event is to have any durable effect – if it is to bring about any real and lasting change in the world – its happening must be in some way affirmed by an outside party. This affirmation – together with the radical possibilities it implies – constitutes the trace of the vanished event, meaning that even though the laws of the situation dictate that the event itself must disappear, it nonetheless leaves a mark.

The process of affirming (or ‘tracing’) an event however proves to be somewhat of a tricky business. For as it turns out, we cannot strictly speaking know whether an event has taken place or not. The reasoning behind this is again complicated, but essentially boils down to the fact that the ‘place’ in which an event takes place (the ‘voided’ part of the situation, or the place of radical ‘inappearance’) is a point which for structural reasons must remain altogether unrecognised by the state. To this end there can be absolutely no knowledge of an event’s occurrence (for the simple reason that, in falling outside of the statist order, which is equally the order of ‘knowledge’, it is thereby ‘subtracted’ from all predication). Moreover, an event’s being radically un-known means that its very happening must be properly speaking undecidable: someone must make a ‘pure’ decision regarding its having taken place (the ‘purity’ of this decision residing in the fact that there can be no criteria upon which to base a decision concerning the occurrence of something which is radically un-known).

In sum, an event ‘interrupts repetition’ to introduce something truly new in the form of a heretofore unimaginable possibility. Yet the event’s radically un-known status means that its occurrence is in fact undecidable: with regard to deciding an event’s having happened, “it is given to us to bet”.[15]

There is however one last characteristic of the event that is of particular interest to us, namely, the event’s paradoxical relation to time. As we have seen, the ontological illegality of an event means that its appearance effectively coincides with its disappearance (inasmuch as it must vanish the very moment it arises). Yet while this necessary vanishing means that the event is itself effectively excised from time, this is in no way to say that an event has no temporal effect. What an event does is interrupt one time to introduce a new time, to which Badiou gives the name ‘eternal present’. It literally splits time in two. In his own words:

the event extracts from one time the possibility of an other time. This other time, whose materiality envelops the consequences of the event, deserves the name of a new present. The event is neither past nor future. It makes us present to the present.[16]

So an event ultimately signifies a “pure cut” in time which is itself cut out of time, leading Badiou to variously describe the event as “an interval of suspense”, “a separating evanescence”, “an atemporal instant”, “an anonymous flash”, and so on.[17] The event itself, this “separating evanescence”, thus vanishes between two radically heterogeneous times, namely, a pre-evental and the post-evental time. And as I will argue, L’Année Dernière à Marienbad is entirely situated within this properly intemporal space – the space of the event.

An Eternal Encounter

Perhaps the best place to recommence our examination of time in L’Année Dernière à Marienbad is, paradoxically enough, with the question of movement. For the elliptical nature of Marienbad is not limited to time, but is equally – perhaps even more immediately – registered in the film’s movement, which is at once incessant and directionless. Indeed, Marienbad’s many movements (be they in-camera or of the camera itself) are characterised foremost by their possessing neither beginning nor end, being contrarily caught up in an interminable passing, a passing which exists exclusively in the present, without past or future. Suffice to recall Marienbad’s opening shot, in which the camera drifts (perhaps aimlessly, perhaps pointedly) along endless corridors, in a seemingly eternal movement which, as François Regnault might say, ultimately becomes reflexive of the film itself.[18] The endless nature of this movement is further underscored by the narrator’s circular monologue, which repeatedly fades in and out of existence mid-sentence, as though caught in an infinite loop, ensuring that we are forever held back from knowing where the words began and where they might end.

The interminable and fundamentally immobile (or static) character of this movement – which equally extends to a physical immobility (the hotel guests having an unnerving habit of freezing mid-action, only to reanimate moments later) – might lead one to suppose that Marienbad presents us with an image of purgatory, if not hell. Indeed, the ghostly pall surrounding the characters as much as their environs – recall Marienbad’s iconic long shot of a garden in which the frozen characters cast shadows while the trees do not – would seem to support this idea. Here I propose that Marienbad is foremost a film about life, about the amorous encounter, which is nothing other than the in(ter)vention – or the event – of love.[19]

Indeed, what is L’Année Dernière à Marienbad if not the eternal encounter, amorous in nature, of X and A? The endlessness of this encounter lies not so much in its being infinitely repeated (denied, forestalled, postponed…) as in its being undecided. Did X and A actually meet last year in Marienbad (or Frederiksbad, or Karlstadt)? And did A agree to leave M for X? This undecidability equally holds for the film’s violence: did X rape A? Did M kill A? All these questions (which the film of course steadfastly refuses to answer) are but subsidiary effects of Marienbad’s central undecidable event: are X and A in love? Simply, inasmuch as Marienbad is, as I contend, wholly contained within an amorous event, the only escape – the only way the film might truly end – must be through a truly decisive act (which, in rupturing with the order of the film, is itself a kind of violence), in deciding the undecidable: either X and A are in love or they are not. One of the masterstrokes of Resnais’ film – also one of the indicators of its eventness – is the fact that this decision belongs as much to us (the spectators) as it does to X and A.

This central ambiguity is beautifully mirrored in the statue of the man and woman observed by X and A in the garden (a statue which, X notes, could as easily be themselves).[20] Is the man holding the woman back, protecting her from some hidden danger (X’s position)? Or is the woman contrarily urging him onward, toward something “breathtaking” (A’s position)? Following X and A’s ponderous exchange on the subject of the statue Resnais abruptly shifts to a different locale, the characters no longer regarding the statue itself but rather its representation in a map of the grounds (mirroring the removed position held by Marienbad’s spectators with regard to the text’s central undecidable), while the same conversation (or a variation thereupon) ensues.[21] It is at this point that M makes his appearance so as to ‘clarify’ the situation, authoritatively stating that the statue depicts Charles III and his wife at “the Oath before the Diet” immediately prior to his trial for treason. M (who here clearly embodies the state) thus attempts to reinscribe the un-known back into the field of knowledge. Yet M’s ‘explanation’ ultimately fails to touch upon the undecidable content of the statue, namely, the ‘truth’ of the figure’s (in)actions. Moreover, his story is a fabrication.[22] As Badiou puts it, statist (or ‘static’) knowledge cannot account for the undecidable. Hence the dreamlike, illogical structure of Marienbad: in situating itself firmly within the amorous encounter – in the undecidability of the event itself – Marienbad effectively subtracts itself from knowledge. It is precisely for this reason that Marienbad appears to this day as something of a perplexity, a mystery with no solution, an enduring novelty. As Resnais himself puts it, Marienbad is an open film which presents us with a choice: this is not a film to be known, but rather one to be decided.[23]

Still, what is the source of this ambiguity, this undecidability? Clearly it arises from its frozen nature, from its having been ripped out of time (as M notes, the statue “is not of the period”) to persist in another time (the insistence of time being a fundamental rule of cinema: a film always passes). This of course applies equally to the lovers, the statue, and the image itself. Plucked out of time, immobilised, “held up, suspended, inverted, arrested”,[24] each find themselves divorced from both cause and effect: X and A are caught between several possible pasts and an equally possible future (albeit one which is deprived of all certainty); the statue is suspended between action and reaction; the image is cut from its ‘proper’ relational network. It is their very suspension that designates their undecidability: divorced (suspended) from their ‘natural’ framework, each effectively becomes a singularity.

The Mise-en-scène of Two

But what exactly is love, philosophically speaking? Badiou’s take on love essentially departs from the infamous Lacanian thesis that “there is no sexual relation”.[25] As Badiou points out, this thesis raises a paradox, namely, that although there is only a single Humanity, there are nevertheless two positions of experience, the one masculine, the other feminine.[26] Moreover, these positions are absolutely unrelated, inasmuch as “nothing in experience is the same for the positions of man and woman”.[27] Of course, this disjunction is radically un-known, in Badiou’s terms, for the simple reason that all knowledge, being necessarily situated (i.e. part of the situation), must be positioned within the disjunction itself. In order to say anything of sexual disjunction, we first require a supplement in the form of an event. This event is none other than the amorous encounter, whose trace (generally in the form of a declaration of love) invokes the void (or the un-known) of the disjunction (the generic statement ‘I love you’ bringing together two fundamentally incongruous positions), and its ensuing truth is precisely the ‘treatment’ of the paradox of sexual disjunction. However, this invocation of the void – which, as we have seen, is precisely what guarantees an event’s universality – is only ensured inasmuch as its trace remains an “absolutely undetermined, non-describable, non-composable” term.[28] As such, aside from being shared across two otherwise disjunct positions, the only relation this term (qua evental trace) can have is with (the) nothing. To this effect Badiou defines love as that which makes truth of sexual disjunction.[29] Meaning love makes manifest in truth the fact that the world harbours two radically disjunct positions. Or again, love brings about the Two, it is “the experience and thought of what the Two is”.[30]

This Two must however be carefully understood. For one thing, contra Aristophanes, it is not the Two of fusion (whereby the Two counts as One). Nor for that matter is it the Two of summation (wherein one plus one equals two). To the contrary, the law of absolute disjunction means that neither position can have any real experience of the other, hence the impossibility of either their subsumption or addition (both of which would necessarily involve an illegal interiorisation).[31] In Joan Copjec’s words, “the madness of love consists in [the] creation of Two where there never was a one and which is not itself one”.[32] For the Two that is invented in love is finally an immanent Two, a Two ‘counted from itself’, a Two which lies “in excess of that which composes it, without, for all that, annexing the Three”.[33] As Badiou puts it, “the Two who amorously operate is properly the name of the disjunct apprehended in its disjunction”.[34] This means that, prior to love, there is no real experience of sexual difference. Or again, sex is something that only comes after the event.

Love is then absolute fidelity to the sudden emergence of the Two, attested to in the amorous declaration (‘I love you’). It unfolds in the world in the form of an ‘amorous truth-procedure’, namely, a material process by which the lovers reevaluate the totality of their experience, “traversing the entire situation bit by bit, according to its connection or its disconnection to the nominal supposition of the Two”.[35] Thus, numerically speaking, love is the process whereby we pass from the One through the Two to infinity.

Returning once again to Resnais’ cinema, we can see that this evental progression (from the One to the Two to infinity) is what is at work in L’Année Dernière à Marienbad. In point of fact, this real divide separating X from A is the very source of the film’s mystery, a disjunction which is of course principally encapsulated in what Lyotard would call their ‘differend’ concerning the supposed events of the previous year. For when we get down to it, we see that X – whose world, as narrator (for the most part), we effectively inhabit – has no real relationship with A (although he himself cannot know this). His is thus a persistent (and ultimately hopeless) persuasion, a desperate demand that A ‘remember him’ and concede to their relationship. Thus time and again X attempts to bridge their sexual divide (clarify their sexual divide), to prove in one way or another their apparent ‘connection’. Which is why, to pursue our earlier example, when confronted with A’s refusal to acquiesce to his own interpretation of the statue, X immediately attempts to surmount their opposition by observing how both explanations are possible at the same time, pronouncing:

the couple had left home and had been walking for days. They’ve just come to the edge of a cliff. He holds her back to keep her from the edge, while she points to the sea stretching out to the horizon.

Needless to say, his attempts are fruitless: there is no existing bridge to span the sexual divide; only a supplement can broach this disjunction.

It is in fact only at the close of the film, when X and A break free of the tyranny of repetition by leaving the hotel together, when the event is finally ‘decided’, that the Two truly emerges, this Two being attested to in the final words of the film as X recognises that A now exists “alone with me” (seul avec moi). Indeed, this “alone with me” is the very essence of the immanent Two, the convocation whereby the void of the sexual relation invoked in the event – this being precisely what the whole of the film bears witness to – is attested to, in the opening of an amorous truth-procedure. Marienbad’s ambiguous conclusion thus paradoxically marks the point at which its time truly begins – when the inter-time of the event gives way to the new ‘eternal present’ – X declaring that A exists “alone with me” at the precise point that they escape the hotel’s evental matrix, his final words being delivered over a distant shot of the hotel, where all that remains of its timeless baroque artistry is a vague outline, its form barely distinguishable against the night sky.


Badiou, Alain. Being and Event. Trans. Oliver Feltham. London: Continuum, 2005.

Badiou, Alain. The Century. Trans. Alberto Toscano. Cambridge: Polity, 2007.

Badiou, Alain. Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil. Trans. Peter Hallward. London: Verso, 2001.

Badiou, Alain. Handbook of Inaesthetics. Trans. Alberto Toscano. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2005.

Badiou, Alain. Infinite Thought: Truth and the Return to Philosophy. Edited & translated by Justin Clemens & Oliver Feltham. London: Continuum, 2003.

Badiou, Alain. Logics of Worlds, trans. Alberto Toscano. London: Continuum, 2009.

Badiou, Alain. Manifesto for Philosophy. Trans. Norman Maderasz. Albany: SUNY, 1999.

Badiou, Alain. ‘La scène du Deux’. In De L’amour, edited by L’Ecole de la Cause Freudienne, 177–190. Paris: Flammarion, 1999.

Badiou, Alain. ‘What is Love?’. In Umbr(a), trans. Justin Clemens, vol. 1 (1996), 37-53.

Badiou, Alain and Bruno Bosteels. ‘Can Change Be Thought: A Dialogue with Alain Badiou’. In Alain Badiou: Philosophy and its Conditions, edited by Gabriel Riera, 237–261. New York: SUNY Press, 2005.

Copjec, Joan. ‘Gai Savoir Sera: The Science of Love and the Insolence of Chance’, Alain Badiou: Philosophy and its Conditions. Edited by Gabriel Riera, 119–135. New York: SUNY Press, 2005.

Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema 2: The Time Image. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta. London: Continuum, 1989.

Domarchi, Jean, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, Jean-Luc Godard, Pierre Kast, Jacques Rivette, and Eric Rohmer. ‘Hiroshima, notre amour’. In Cahiers du cinéma: The 1950s: Neo-Realism, Hollywood, New Wave: Vol 1, edited by Jim Hillier, trans. Liz Heron, 59–70. London: Harvard University Press, 1985.

Higgins, Lynn A. New Novel, New Wave, New Politics: Fiction and the Representation of History. Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1996.

Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XX: On Feminine Sexuality, The Limits of Love and Knowledge, 1972-1973. Edited by Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Bruce Fink. New York: Norton, 1999.

Monaco, James. Alain Resnais. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.

Regnault, François. ‘Système formel d’Hitchcock (fascicule de résultats)’, Cahiers du cinéma, hors-série, 8 (1980), 21–29.

Resnais, Alain and Yvonne Baby. ‘Entretien avec Alain Resnais’, Le Monde, August 29 (1961).

Robbe-Grillet, Alain. Last Year in Marienbad. Trans. Richard Howard. New York: Grove Press, 1962.

Robbe-Grillet, Alain. Pour un nouveau roman. Paris: Editions de minuit, 1963.

Sweet, Freddy. The Film Narratives of Alain Resnais. Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI Research Press, 1981.

[1] Alain Resnais cited in Freddy Sweet, The Film Narratives of Alain Resnais (Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI Research Press, 1981), 5.

[2] Alain Badiou, ‘La scène du Deux’, De L’amour, ed. L’Ecole de la Cause Freudienne (Paris: Flammarion, 1999), 180.

[3] Jean Domarchi, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, Jean-Luc Godard, Pierre Kast, Jacques Rivette, Eric Rohmer, ‘Hiroshima, notre amour’, Cahiers du cinéma: The 1950s: Neo-Realism, Hollywood, New Wave: Vol 1, ed. Jim Hillier, trans. Liz Heron (London: Harvard University Press, 1985), 69.

[4] Domarchi et al., 69

[5] In his Cinema 2 Deleuze argues “the entire Marienbad hotel is a pure crystal, with its transparent side, its opaque side and their exchange”, Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time Image trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta (London: Continuum, 1989), 74.

[6] Alain Resnais and Yvonne Baby, ‘Entretien avec Alain Resnais’, Le Monde, 29 August 29, 1961.

[7] While in the film the characters remain nameless, in Alain Robbe-Grillet’s script for the film they are designated X, A and M, denoting respectively the male narrator, the woman (who is the object of X’s desire), and the other man (who we assume to be A’s husband). On a somewhat facetious note, the characters’ being designated X, A and M conveniently mirrors what many perceive as the arduous nature of L’Année Dernière à Marienbad, inasmuch as at times one can feel as though one were sitting through an ‘exam’ (XAM).

[8] Domarchi et al., 69.

[9] Marienbad’s scriptwriter, the celebrated ‘new novelist’ Alain Robbe-Grillet, explains the film’s peculiar temporality – though we are under no obligation to limit ourselves to his words – as a reaction to “the linear plots of the old-fashioned cinema which never spares us a link in the chain of all-too-expected events”. Contrary to this illusory and predictable schema, Robbe-Grillet and Resnais sought to make a more ‘subjective’ film, for “our minds go faster – or slower, on occasion. Its style is more varied, richer, and less reassuring: it skips certain passages, it preserves an exact record of certain ‘unimportant’ details, it repeats and doubles back on itself. And this mental time, with its peculiarities, its gaps, its obsessions, its obscure areas, is the one that interests us since it is the tempo of our emotions, of our life”, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Last Year in Marienbad, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Grove Press, 1962), 13. Elsewhere, Robbe-Grillet explains how “the entire story of Marienbad happens neither in two years nor in three days, but exactly in one hour and a half”, Pour un nouveau roman (Paris: Editions de minuit, 1963), 165.

[10] Since Norman Maderasz’s inaugural translation of Manifesto for Philosophy (Albany: SUNY, 1999) a further twenty-four of Badiou’s books have appeared in English, including his major works Being and Event, trans. Oliver Feltham (London: Continuum, 2005) and Logics of Worlds, trans. Alberto Toscano (London: Continuum, 2009).

[11] Alain Badiou and Bruno Bosteels, ‘Can Change Be Thought: A Dialogue with Alain Badiou’, Alain Badiou: Philosophy and its Conditions, ed. Gabriel Riera (New York: SUNY Press, 2005), 252–3.

[12] Very briefly, an event is immediately universally addressed insofar as it issues from the void of the situation (namely, the part of the situation that for structural reasons remains altogether unrecognised by the state). Its universality is ensured by the fact that the void, or the multiple of nothing, constitutes the “absolute neutrality of being” and thus “neither excludes nor constrains anyone”, Alain Badiou, Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, trans. Peter Hallward (London: Verso, 2001), 73.

[13] A situation’s state presides over everything that is there in the situation, and “what there already is – the situation of knowledge as such – generates nothing other than repetition”, Alain Badiou, Infinite Thought: Truth and the Return to Philosophy, ed. & trans. Justin Clemens & Oliver Feltham (London: Continuum, 2003), 62.

[14] Badiou (2009), 369.

[15] Badiou (2005a), 198.

[16] Badiou (2009), 384.

[17] Cf. Badiou (2006a), 207; Badiou (2009), 384, 508.

[18] In his ‘Système formel d’Hitchcock’ (a paper which would become an important reference for both Deleuze and Badiou in their work on cinema), François Regnault identified a formal system at work in the films of Alfred Hitchcock, one which operates in accordance with two axioms, namely that “a film tends to organise itself according to a principal geometric or dynamic form” and that this principal form “tends to become reflexive of film itself, in terms of its form”, François Regnault, ‘Système formel d’Hitchcock (fascicule de résultats)’, Cahiers du cinéma, hors-série, no. 8 (1980), 22.

[19] In Badiou’s philosophy, ‘to live’ – which he distinguishes from merely existing – means to be incorporated into a post-evental truth-procedure, which (as we will see) is for him precisely what love is. Or as Badiou puts it, “‘to live’ and ‘to live for an Idea’ are one and the same thing”, Badiou (2009), 510.

[20] Of course Marienbad’s various characters are constantly referred to (and depicted as) statues throughout the film. James Monaco even goes so far as to call Marienbad “an opera of statues”, Alain Resnais (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), 63.

[21] As is typical of Resnais’ cinema, we do not know if this is a jump forward in linear time to a later point in their conversation, or an ‘adjacent’ jump into an overlapping time, thereby presenting a parallel version of the same conversation.

[22] As Lynn A. Higgins points out, “although the three historical markers given – Charles III, an oath before the Diet, a treason trial – sound authentic enough, there is no such historical personage. M’s intervention is fiction invented out of historical materials, a historical discourse without historical reference”, New Novel, New Wave, New Politics: Fiction and the Representation of History (Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1996), 104.

[23] This is further supported by Robbe-Grillet’s assertion that in Marienbad both director and screenwriter “have decided to trust the spectator, to allow him, from start to finish, to come to terms with pure subjectivities”. Robbe-Grillet, 13.

[24] Alain Badiou, Handbook of Inaesthetics, trans. Alberto Toscano (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2005), 78.

[25] Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XX: On Feminine Sexuality, The Limits of Love and Knowledge, 1972-1973, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Bruce Fink (New York: Norton, 1999), 71. While departing from Lacan’s thesis on the inexistence of the sexual relation, Badiou is nonetheless deeply suspicious of his “complicity with the moralising pessimism which suspects love of being nothing but an imaginary supplement for sexual dereliction”, Badiou (2009), 556.

[26] Needless to say ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ positions are irreducible to biology: as Badiou points out, his approach is “strictly nominalist: there is no question here of an empirical, biological, or social distribution”, Alain Badiou, ‘What is Love?’, Umbr(a), trans. Justin Clemens, vol. 1 (1996), 40.

[27] Badiou (1996), 40. Badiou thus holds firm to Lacan’s contention that love involves the “intersection of two substances that have no part in common”, Lacan, (1999), 17.

[28] Badiou (1999b), 183.

[29] “In our world, love is the guardian of the universality of the true. It elucidates possibility, because it makes truth of the disjunction”, Badiou (1996), 46.

[30] Alain Badiou, The Century, trans. Alberto Toscano (Cambridge: Polity, 2007), 145. While I will not explore this here, one could conceptualise L’Année Dernière à Marienbad itself in similar terms, i.e. as the result of an evental encounter (albeit of an artistic and not an amorous nature) between filmmaker Alain Resnais and ‘new novelist’ Alain Robbe-Grillet, which remains faithful to their divergent conceptions of art (and indeed the film itself).

[31] “There is a real of the disjunction, which is, exactly, that no subject is able to occupy at the same time and under the same relation the two positions”. Badiou (1996), 49.

[32] Joan Copjec, ‘Gai Savoir Sera: The Science of Love and the Insolence of Chance’, Alain Badiou: Philosophy and its Conditions, ed. Gabriel Riera (New York: SUNY Press, 2005), 124.

[33] Badiou (1999), 178

[34] Badiou (1996), 45.

[35] Badiou (1996), 45

About the Author

Alex Ling

About the Author

Alex Ling

Alex Ling is Research Lecturer in Communication and Media Studies at the University of Western Sydney. He is the author of Badiou and Cinema (Edinburgh University Press, 2011) and co-editor of Mathematics of the Transcendental (Continuum, Forthcoming).View all posts by Alex Ling →