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Hiroshima, Mon Amour  

War is a subject used repeatedly in numerous mediums. The greatest film variations of that theme -- from M*A*S*H to Schindler`s List to The Bridge On The River Kwai -- brilliantly portray numerous aspects of the human condition in the midst of all the carnage and tragedy. Few, however, are as peculiar as Hiroshima, Mon Amour, a French film from 1959. Unlike a standard film on the subject, war no longer takes place in the locations mentioned or used in the story. But, while the war is over, the remnants, both physical and emotional, still exist.

The beginning ten to fifteen minutes may confuse some viewers who expect an immediate burst of plot. It is a discussion between a man and a woman on the final act of World War II, the bomb over Hiroshima. The discussion revolves around the woman`s understanding of what the Japanese went through, and the man`s repeated insistence that she "saw nothing in Hiroshima". She tries to convince him otherwise: she`s seen the museums, with exhibits of different things, like numerous bottle caps melded together from the heat, samples of burnt skin in jars, dramatic recreations of the actual event, and newsreels showing actual results of nuclear fallout on bodies. After the explination of each item, the woman always hears from the man how she saw nothing, that she is inventing everything. Intercut with these horrible images are shots of two nude bodies wrapped in desire. It is obvious these are the same two people who are having this debate, and later on, the woman talks about the city of Hiroshima today as she knows it. She says she never realized before how this city could be made for love. She then goes on to say his body was made for her. And, lastly, in a peculair line, she says You are good for me. You are killing me.

After this long intro, we get into the heart of the story: a French woman and a Hiroshima man have gotten together for what appears to have been a one-night stand. Yet there is a lot more to it than a roll in the hay. These two people seem to have a facination with the other`s culture and state of mind, revolving around the horrible events of Hiroshima. The woman is an actress hired to play a nurse in an international production on the Hiroshima tragedy, while the man is Japanese yet fluent in French. So somehow their lifestyle symbolizes a need for each of them to experince, if only cursory, the experince of the other group. It is almost as if each one is attempting to divest themselves of ignorance, an essential ingrediant if a country is going to see another as an enemy.

I think only the French could make something as potentially tawdry as a one-night stand into something more adult and complicated. People don`t live in isolation; this is not like one of those porn films where everything in the movie revolves around sex. No matter what the two people get involved in, there is bound to be at least some disclosure of personality. Like a recent French film The School of Flesh, the unique situation communicates aspects of human nature as opposed to aspects of sleaze. In this particular case, the French woman and the Japanese man clearly have a deeper reason or need to be together. What that is, is something they, nor us, can fully comprehend. All they know is they want desperately to be together. Yet while one believes this relationship ultimately cannot be anymore than two ships passing in the night, the other cannot stand to be without her.

I suppose the relationship is ultimatly a metaphor of some kind. Maybe each person, representing their side of the war, is trying to make a sort of amends, or at least an attempt at empathy for the other side. I certainly understand the motives of the woman to be an odd way of apoligizing for what her side eventually done to the Japanese. She really involves herself in the history; going so far as to be an actress in a film pretaining to the subject. And if I`m correct in going further, she is also unable to find the understanding she really wants. She is merely a visitor to this city; how can she be expected to understand the pains, the regrets, the anger, etc. etc. of this different culture, a culture she would have been taught as a child to regard as the ememy? This is what I understood in a scene very close to the ending, in a Hiroshima bar. She is a tourist, not a resident, so all her gestures towards understanding can only be seen as facile.

Overall, despite the fact that this was somewhat confusing and difficult, Hiroshima, Mon Amour is another typically French excursion in a typically French film subject: the endless possibilities in the nature of love.

David Macdonald

David Macdonald's Movie Reviews

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