I thought the first words of the film – "you saw nothing in Hiroshima" – may be intended to console rather than accuse, since it plays into the theme of forgetting in order to continue living. But it's also a confession from the scriptwriter that she wasn't able to address the event directly in the script. Should we forgive her?
Resnais does a good job of editing together selections of a Japanese documentary on the effects of the bomb to convey a sense of what it must have been like, and also to suggest the feelings an uninvolved observer would have.
But there is still something off-putting about setting a film about a woman's experience of occupied France in Hiroshima. Her painful memories are dredged up by a Japanese man she has an affair with. As we don't have access to his memories, he remains little more than a device. In the end, so too is the Japanese setting, and even the documentary images at the beginning. It quickly becomes apparent that the film is all about the French woman, not the Japanese man and the city he lives in.
And perhaps we shouldn't expect a French director and writer to do anything else. But what makes me less willing to accept that is the strange flatness of the main character. Her forgotten romance feels pat, the scenarios cliché, the language pretentious. This is acknowledged by the narrator (and thus the filmmakers), but the effect is to distance you from the film, rather than lead you to think about the film's purpose – exploring the nature of memory and the way we narrate our pasts.
The effect of smashing together a love story and a war documentary is there in the title. And the suggestion that we need forgetfulness and fiction to be capable of continuing to live our lives is an obvious theme that arises from that. But with characters this wooden and opaque, it's difficult to really warm to what the film is trying to say.