World War II was traditionally a subject of a profound interest from the part of many directors, who attempted to give their own interpretation and vision of the tragedy that occurred at the global scale. At the same time, many directors proved to be unable to reveal the depth of the tragedy and controversies people suffered from during and after the war. In this respect, the film “Hiroshima Mon Amour”¯ by Alain Resnais is probably one of the most successful films which is focused on the fate of the main character, the French actress, whose personal tragedy and humiliation are closely intertwined with such feelings as love and the sense of great loss defined her life in the post-war period. However, what is more important, this film reveals the actual position of women during the war and it reveals the extent to which the war could be controversial since such feelings as patriotism and love often came into clashes that was actually the case of the main character of the film.
In fact, the film suggested a different view on the war, from the perspective of an ordinary woman. Moreover, it is through the fate of the main character the director attempts to show another side of the war, which traditionally remained hidden. This hidden is the position of women at war, which is apparently one of the central themes of the film. In this regard, the film is apparently innovative and original. No wonder, immediately after its release in 1959, “Hiroshima Mon Amour”¯ gained the public approval and positive assessments from the part of film critics.
At the same time, it should be said that the film is interesting not only due to its thematic depth, but also due to the original style and use of such stylistic devices as flashbacks which often intertwine the actual life of the main character in the post-war epoch and the events of the war time, namely her love with the German officer who had been killed by the end of the war. Due to such a use of flashbacks the reality seems to be intertwined with the imaginary world of the main character based on her recalls of the past.
In fact, the main character of the film can never forget her past, the tragedy she suffered from at the time of the war in Nevers. At first glance, it is an ordinary, even plain love story between an officer of the enemy army and a girl, which is in between because the love to the officer will be interpreted as betrayal, but she cannot keep from loving. However, as the main character recalls her past, the audience can understand that it is a lifetime drama which always pursues the main character.
The main character apparently reveals the role of women in Nevers during the war time and her behavior during this time reveals the role women played and how the society interpreted their behavior. In this respect, it should be said that the main character was unable to resist to her personal feelings and emotions and she felt in love with the German officer, who was the enemy of her country and her people. She hardly failed to understand the fact that her compatriots would condemned her love since the love to the German officer could not be understood otherwise but as a betrayal France and those French soldiers who sacrificed their lives while fighting against the German occupation. In such a way, the public opinion was definitely against the main character because her love to the German officer was a forbidden, insulting act, which raised the hatred of French people and evoked an irresistible desire of revenge.
In such a way, the director shows the provocative role of the woman in Nevers as well as in the war time at large. What is meant here is the fact that the love of the main character to the German officer was a kind of provocation. Moreover, it was a double provocation. On the one hand, she provoked her compatriots, French people whose sons fought and many died for the liberty of France in the struggle with German occupants. Hence, the love of the French actress to the German officer was offensive in relation to the dignity of French patriots and memory of those French soldiers who died in the war. In fact, it was disrespect to them and the French viewed her love as a betrayal. On the other hand, the main character provoked the German officer to make a kind of betrayal of his country as he gets involved in love affair with the French actress, who is actually a representative of the occupied country and conquered nation. However, at this point, it is possible to argue that the German officer did not actually betrayed German but simply used his position as a conqueror.
Hence, it is possible to stereotyped views on women and their role in the society, especially during the war time. First of all, from the point of view of the French people the main character was a symbol of evil, a symbol of sin because she actually fell in love with the enemy, the German officer. However, in this respect, it is extremely important to stress the fact that it is the woman who is considered to be guilty but not the man. To put it more precisely, the French who witnessed the relationship and love affair of the main character and the German officer blamed the French actress, as if it was only she who was responsible for the development of the relationships between her and the German officer. In such a situation, the role of the German officer was interpreted by the French as insignificant or even just, in a way (Wilson, 229). At any rate, the French does not seriously blame the German officer that he had seduced the innocent French girls. In fact, they do not even attempt to shift the burden of guilt from the French actress onto the German officer. In stark contrast, they even attempt to justify the behavior of the German officer, the man, arguing that he could not resist to her charms, love, etc. this means that the French in Nevers intentionally or not extrapolated the responsibility for the love affair on the French actress and it was particularly important, taking into consideration the extremely negative attitude of the French to this love affair.
In such a context, it is possible to speak about some elements of the prejudices and biases in relation to women which existed in the epoch of the Middle Ages, when women were associated with the evil power, demons, witches and other devilish creatures. As a result, due to such a view on women in the Middle Ages, women were traditionally viewed from a negative point of view. As the story of the main character of “Hiroshima Mon Amour”¯ shows such a biased attitude to women persisted even at the epoch of World War II since the French, a priori, attributed negative qualities and characteristics to the French actress simply because she was a woman.
In this regard, the attitude to the German officer seems to be a bit paradoxical to the modern audience, because he is not only attributed negative characteristics because of the love affair she had with the main character. Instead, the French viewed his behavior as a lightheartedness or weakness and they did not blame the German officer that he seduced the French actress and offended the dignity of all French people. Moreover, the French even tend to justify his behavior (Monaco, 183). At this point, it is possible to return to symbols of the Middle Ages and view the German officer as a traditional conqueror. In fact, such a conservative, rigid view on the officer of the enemy army as a conqueror persisted during World War II. This is probably why the French did not really condemned the German officer, but rather viewed him as a conqueror who simply uses his position and takes the reward he deserved due to his accomplishments in the battlefield.
Obviously, such a view on the role of woman and man reveals the fact that women were viewed as inferior to men at the epoch in Nevers. As the main character was the only person who is guilty of the love to the German officer, which proved to be offensive to the French, it is possible to estimate that such an attitude was unjust because the love affair involved both the French actress and the German officer.
Therefore, it is impossible to blame the main character and justify or, at least, ignore the guilt of the German officer. But this is exactly what the French do in Nevers. In such a situation, the main character turned out to be in the inferior position compared to the man, the German officer.
It is important to stress the fact that the inferiority of the woman was based not on some objective facts or logical reasoning of the French, but it was based on sheer biases and prejudices which had persisted in the French society for decades or even centuries. In other words, the inferiority of the woman was imposed on her by the society, while, in actuality, she could not perceive herself as inferior since, objectively speaking, the main character was as much guilty as the German officer is (Monaco, 129). Their love is a mutual and very strong feeling, which they cannot resist or suppress. Being unable to resist to their mutual love, they start their love affair which provokes such a stir in the French community in Nevers because the French are bounded to their stereotypes and biases which they cannot reject and make objective and just judgments. As a result, a priori the woman turns out to be inferior while the man turns out to be superior.
The tragic ending of their love is quite logical since the French hated both the German officer and the French actress so much that they could not help from punishing them severely. The German officer is killed, while the main character was ostracized by her parents, humiliated by having her head shaved, being paraded in public, then locked in the cellar. In such a way, the main character was punished even when the Germany was actually defeated and German troops expelled from France (Sontag, 71). Obviously, it was the revenge of the offended French on the main character for her love affair with the German officer.
On the other hand, it should be said that it is possible to trace the inferiority of the woman and superiority of the man even in the punishment of the main character and the German soldier. To put it more precisely, the German officer dies as he was supposed to die. He was killed and it was a norm for a soldier in a hostile country. In this regard, his death may be viewed as a noble ending of his life in a way.
As for the French actress, her punishment is, in contrast, extremely severe and humiliating. In fact, the humiliation is probably the key word that reveals the difference in the French attitude to the man and to the woman. Unlike the German officer, who was not humiliated, the main character had undergone a terrible humiliation which was unbearable for her to such an extent that she was forced to flee to Paris to avoid the disgrace which would accompany her life in Nevers after the war. In fact, she had undergone a humiliating ritual, which disgraced her in face of the entire city.
Obviously after that she could not lead a normal life in Nerves but this ritual proves her inferiority compared to the man. In this regard, the punishment of the man and the woman should be just and equal, if the attitude of the French to the woman was unbiased. However, they did not humiliate the German officer, who was killed, nor they kill the French actress that would be more logical and equal, though absolutely inhumane, punishment for her love to the German officer. At any rate, the equal punishment would make them equal.
Nevertheless, the French choose a sophisticated and extremely humiliating punishment that stressed the inferiority of the woman during the war time in Nevers as well as in France at large and such an attitude to women probably dominated worldwide.
At the same time, it is obvious that women were absolutely excluded from the warfare and the fate of the German officer and the French actress proved the fact of such exclusion. In fact, the main character was viewed as inferior not only because of the existing biases but also because she was actually excluded from the warfare and, unlike men, who participated in the war, she simply enjoyed the life as she loved the German officer. At least, this was the position of the French in her regard.
However, the main character cannot avoid this exclusion nor can she change the opinion of the French. It is hardly possible to believe that she could change the views of the French, if she failed to explain her feelings to her parents and make them sympathetic. In stark contrast, her parents stood on the same ground of exclusion as all the other French did. In such a situation, the main character could not change the mind of her parents because they were convinced that she was inferior to men, who could fought and prove that they did not disgrace their people and their country as the main character did, from the point of view of ordinary French people at the epoch.
In such a situation, the main character had the only way out of such a situation and to avoid the exclusion she had to escape from Nevers. On the other hand, her decision to escape from Nevers to Paris could be interpreted by her compatriots as another evidence of her inferiority because she proved to be unable to bear the disgrace and humiliation she had undergone after the war. Therefore, she proved to be too weak to be treated as equal to men. At the same time, her escape was actually the only logical decisions she could take in her position because she could not keep living in Nevers, while, being in Paris, she could a new life.
Furthermore, the exclusion of the main character can be also interpreted from the purely psychological point of view. In fact, she could not be able to bear the stressful situations of her environment, nor could she bear the horrors of war because she was unprepared and untrained to take part in military actions. The war was traditionally perceived as the male domain, where there was no room for women’s participation (Bonvillain, 135). In such a context, even her love to the German soldier can be viewed as an attempt of escape from the war and its horrors, while her decision to escape after the war was also determined by psychological factors since the huge psychological pressure forced her to abandon Nevers.
At the same time, this tragic part of her life always remains in the memory of the main character. Even when she is in Hiroshima, her memory vividly recalls the episodes of her past in Nevers. She can never forget her love to the German officer and the punishment and terrible humiliation she had undergone after the death of the German officer. At this point, it should be said that her love and her humiliation seems to be equally strong feelings or souvenirs of her past since these are the brightest episodes of her life, which remains in her mind even after fourteen years have already passed. Even the huge distance between Hiroshima and Nevers and long time that has passed cannot help her from thinking of the German officer, her love and her humiliation. Remarkably her Japanese lover cannot replace the German officer at all, and she always returns to the German officer in her mind, while her fancies vividly depict her past and imagined encounters with her beloved, which the director skillfully depicts with the help of flashbacks.
Nevertheless, the story of the main character of “Hiroshima Mon Amour”¯ is not the only story that reveals the inferiority and women’s exclusion from the warfare. In this respect, it is possible to refer to another film “Casablanca”¯, which was actually prior to “Hiroshima Mon Amour”¯, but which also showed that women are excluded from the warfare and, unlike men who are involved in military actions, women’s fate is rather wait for their husbands and beloved than be involved in the warfare.
In fact, today, the situation has not changed much, though women are not totally excluded from the warfare, but still their participation in the warfare is quite limited and it still remains the domain of men. In actuality, many women serve in the army and they can be quite successful and take the top ranks in the modern army, including the US army which is apparently one of the most advanced and strongest armies in the world (Somerville, 102). However, it is hardly possible to speak about the total inclusion of women in the warfare since often they face discrimination in the army, while the skeptical attitude to women serving in the army is still widely spread not only among civilians but also among the military as well. Moreover, women are still excluded from the most difficult military operations where the stamina and physical force still remain the major priorities and, thus, women turn out to be excluded from such operations. This is why it is possible to conclude that the biases and stereotypes concerning women in the warfare which were perfectly revealed by the film “Hiroshima Mon Amour”¯ evolve but still they persist, at least partially. On the other hand, it is impossible to ignore the progress made by the modern army and women, who have managed to close the gap which used to be unsurpassable for them, but, today, the elimination of gender barriers seems to be as close as it has never been before.