Je t'aime Je t'aime

France 1968, 91 mins
Director: Alain Resnais

SPOILER WARNING The following notes give away some of the plot.

For Alain Resnais there is a place but not necessarily a time, for everything. There are often several times. A man’s stored experience is like a high walled garden fretted with innumerable doors, and apertures of every shape set at different heights; some are easy of access, others require large efforts to reach and reward the owner of the garden sometimes with views which appear exactly the same as others, sometimes with a lying perspective, and occasionally with no more than the door or aperture itself. The owner may be pacing within the garden, speculating about turns in its paths and the state of the plants, too engrossed to notice that he has passed his own corpse lying at his feet. Je t’aime Je t’aime shows us Resnais’ preoccupation with the charms and terrors of time at its most exciting, confident and beguiling.

Claude Ridder, a young man just released from hospital in Brussels after a suicide attempt, is waylaid by a couple of quietly dressed men who ask him if he will accompany them to Crespel, a clinic in the countryside where they would be grateful to him if he will co-operate in an experiment. He complies almost as if he had expected such an invitation; and as the party drives through the suburbs and into the country, accompanied on the soundtrack by an elegiac electronic wail, Ridder asks if his stewards will do something extraordinary – like turning the Mercedes in which they are driving into a pumpkin.

The themes and style of Je t’aime Je t’aime are established early. The discreet and serious scientists who walk the lawns at Crespel explain to Ridder that they are working on time and their investigations are as yet at an early, even a primitive stage. He is shown a mouse, a pioneer who has travelled back one year in time; it is for just this journey that Ridder will be the first human guinea pig. He is laconic and yet alert to the care with which he has been selected: he is a man with no useful future. Yes, the scientists agree there might be some danger in the experiment, but, they insist, they are not after anything spectacular. He will only be on a short trip, he will be drugged, he will return in four minutes. ‘It may seem uninteresting,’ they say apologetically.

These sober, chronologically designed opening scenes in which Ridder is briefed, tested and drugged establish an atmosphere of seemingly impeccable scientific investigation. It is only when Ridder is shown into the chamber which contains the time machine, and exclaims that he had expected a laboratory, that elements of menace and fancy lurch into view. Connected by naked cables to a number of serviceable but unsophisticated data-reading desks is a gigantic pumpkin, crowned with a stubble of pipes like drinking straws.

The rest of the film describes Ridder’s adventures inside this soft machine. In a series of brief, perfectly timed and seemingly arbitrary scenes we witness the hesitant and painful gropings in time for the moment one year ago which the scientists have appointed as Ridder’s time-goal. He is swimming, masked head under water, in the Mediterranean. He is floating between the elements of air and water, just as he is between the present in his time-machine and the multiple pasts which constellate round the banal moment he has been asked to regain in his past. The audience is made aware of the precarious and makeshift quality of the experiment by observing the struggles of Ridder to be obedient to the dictates of the drug, the machine and the watching scientists. It becomes clear as he blinks and stares at his past progress that Ridder is a more formidable man than we may have guessed – we see him speculate wittily upon philosophical questions with his girl friends, we see him at one moment as a younger man refusing to take promotion in the printing firm where he works, at another as a well dressed executive interviewing Catrine, the girl he falls in love with, charmed by her own indifference to getting a job. Every image, including those which we may take to be dreams, becomes a metaphor of struggle; a struggle against passivity, against embracing death.

‘I love confusion, disorder…’ Ridder announces provocatively at one moment. Only in the ironic contemplation of disorder can he enjoy a sense of life. It is a signal success of Resnais’ film and Claude Rich’s performance that Ridder is a richly individual and charming character. He is aware of the absurdity both of his past life, with its hesitant speculations, and of his present condition, accompanied only by a caged mouse in a comic simulacrum of the human brain. Whether or not he murdered Catrine in a Glasgow boarding house, how he tried to kill himself and why he failed, are shown to be little more than pedantic obsessions in Je t’aime Je t’aime: the soft machine face of the chaotic comedy of his consciousness. The ‘blocks’ to the moment assigned to him by the scientists are a densely woven, arbitrary pattern of desires, dreams, dream-tellings and useless seconds. He is by a tram stop repeatedly; he goes out of the Glasgow room again and again, meeting, or on the edge of meeting, someone different each time. He tells a man in a train about seducing a girl in a bathroom, and later we see this scene; clearly it is a fantasy. His brain is a teasing and cumbersome contraption; it is subject to every form of evasion and inefficiency, like the whole scientific operation in which he is involved.

Where Marienbad and Muriel were meditations, Je t’aime Je t’aime is an investigation. In the earlier films the incongruities of memory were bathed in poetry; the new film wins its marvellous effects of realism by its editing. There is not a mix or a dissolve in the whole picture and only rarely does the camera move within a shot. The filming of the experiment is broken into sharp, separated instances, few of them lasting two minutes, many of them less than five seconds. The result is that after the leisurely opening scenes there are no sequences in the customary cinematic sense of the word – and none of them reflect the style we associate with Resnais in the past, his camera prowling and staring, in constant movement, at creatures immersed in time. Instead, from the first moment that Ridder disappears from his bed in the time machine to the final frozen frame of his mouse companion coming up for air, we follow the cataract of consciousness in what seems like a single, infinitely fragmented moment of urgency. When Ridder finally regains a moment in his past it is not the one assigned to him, but the most significant of all, his own attempted suicide with a revolver. Immediately following are three shots of his dying body lying in various parts of the grounds at Crespel. He has been projected into death.
Julian Jebb, Sight and Sound, Summer 1971

Director: Alain Resnais
Production Companies: Parc Film, Fox Europa
Producer: Mag Bodard
Unit Production Manager: Michel Choquet
Unit Managers: René Pascal, Jean-Jacques Lecot
Production Manager: Philippe Dussart
Production Accountant: Jean-Marc Garrouste
Production Secretary: Giselle Moreau
Assistant Director: Florence Malraux
2nd Assistant Director: Jean Lefèvre
Script Supervisor: Sylvette Baudrot
Screenplay: Jacques Sternberg
Adaptation/Dialogue: Alain Resnais, Jacques Sternberg
Director of Photography: Jean Boffety
Camera Assistants: Patrice Wyers, Guy Lecouvette, Jean Tasso
Gaffer: Pierre Cornier
Key Grip: André Thiery
Stills Photography: Jürgen Vollmer
Editors: Albert Jurgenson, Colette Leloup
Assistant Editor: Ziva Postec
Art Director: Jacques Dugied
Art Director of Sphere: Auguste Pace
Set Decorator: Éric Simon
Floor Properties: Jean Brunet
Furniture Properties: Guy Auge
Wardrobe: Odette Le Barbenchon
Make-up: Alexandre Marcus
Music: Krzysztof Penderecki
Additional Music: Jean-Claude Pelletier, Jean Dandeny
Choir: Musici Cantanti di Varsavia
Sound: Antoine Bonfanti
Boom Operator: Michel Desrois
Mixer: Jean Nény
Post-synchronization: Jacques Lévy
Sound Effects: Daniel Couteau
Publicity: Nicole Loustalot

Claude Rich (Claude Ridder)
Olga Georges-Picot (Catrine)
Anouk Ferjac (Wiana Lust)
Georges Jamin (Dr Delavoix, clinical surgeon)
Van Doude (Jan Rouffer)
Dominique Rozan (Dr Haesaerts)
Ray Verhaege (Paul Goofers, technician A)
Yves Kerboul (Antoine Kammers)
Vania Vilers (Jacques Rhuys)
Pierre Barbaud (Georges Levino, technician B)
Alain Macmoy (André Moyëns)
Bernard Fresson (Bernard Hannecart)
Irène Tunc (Marcelle Hannecart)
Yvette Etiévant (Germaine Coster)
Annie Fargue (Agnès de Smet)
Marie-Blanche Vergne (Marie-Noire Demoon)
Carla Marlier (Christine Yseux)
Annie Bertin (Hélène Wiertz, young mother)
Alain Robbe-Grillet (Hughes Mechelynck)
Catherine Robbe-Grillet (Maryse de Neten)
Jean Michaud (Pierre van Heerswingels)
Alan Adair (Glasgow inspector 1)
Ian Macgregor (Glasgow inspector 2)
Hélène Callot (Odile Piquet, nurse)
Gérard Lorin (Guy Puyaubert)
Jean-Louis Richard (Pierre Vandel Heuvel)
Jacques Doniol-Valcroze (Francis Devos, editor)
François Régis-Bastide (Hubert Brun)
Jean-Claude Romer (party guest)
Francis Lacassin (ad man)
Bernard Valdeneige (Claude Loërs, ad man)
Jean Martin (Henri Troots, ad man)
Georges Walter (André Symons, ad man)
René Bazart (Jean de Calwaers, magazine employee)
Billy Fasbender (2nd employee)
Jean Perre (Fréréric Poëls)
Sylvain Dhomme (Louis Lambert)
Ben Danou (Dr Uyttenhoef)
Pierre Motte (Edward Monnot)
Michéle Blondel (Hélène Mankels, secretary)
M. Floquet (Mr Grabet)
Claire Duhamel (Jane Swolfs, Ridder’s secretary)
Guilène Péan (Bernadette Bellemans)
Alain Tercinet
Michel Choquet
Jorge Semprún

France 1968
91 mins

The Time Machine
Mon 16 Oct 20:40; Sat 28 Oct 15:10; Mon 20 Nov 18:15
Time after Time
Sun 22 Oct 18:20; Mon 13 Nov 20:40
Time Bandits
Wed 25 Oct 20:45; Thus 26 Oct 14:40; Sun 5 Nov 11:30
Je t’aime je t’aime
Thu 26 Oct 20:40; Sat 18 Nov 18:30
Telling the Tales of Time + Q&A with Steve Nallon
Fri 27 Oct 18:15
Run Lola Run (Lola rennt)
Fri 27 Oct 20:45
Donnie Darko
Sat 28 Oct 18:00; Sat 11 Nov 20:20; Fri 17 Nov 20:45
Somewhere in Time
Thu 2 Nov 20:30; Sat 18 Nov 14:20
The TARDIS: The Most Famous Time Machine in the Universe
Sat 4 Nov 12:00
Comedy Time-Travel Special with writer Rob Grant, actor Robert Llewellyn, exec producer Paul Jackson and director Ed Bye – Red Dwarf: Backwards + Timewasters
Sun 5 Nov 14:15
Planet of the Apes
Thu 9 Nov 20:45
Tomorrow I’ll Wake Up and Scald Myself with Tea (Zítra vstanu a oparím se cajem) + **La Jetée
Fri 10 Nov 20:40; Sat 25 Nov 15:00
The Tomorrow People: A Rift in Time + Q&A
Sat 11 Nov 12:00
Sat 18 Nov 20:45; Tue 28 Nov 18:20
Lazarus Table Reading
Sun 19 Nov 15:15
Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (Dorosute no hate de bokura) + Felix the Cat Trifles with Time
Tue 21 Nov 18:30; Thu 23 Nov 21:00

12 Monkeys + La Jetée
Sun 22 Oct 11:30
The Terminator + Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Mon 30 Oct 18:30
Back to the Future Trilogy
Sun 19 Nov 11:30

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Programme notes and credits compiled by Sight and Sound and the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
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