L’Année Dernière à Marienbad (Last Year in Marienbad) | 1957
If, in the Sixties, you saw a serious bunch of students hunched over a table mysteriously moving matchsticks around, chances are they were film society members playing out Sacha Pitoeff’s fiendish game from this art house movie par excellence.
Well, was it Marienbad? Or Frederiksbad? Or neither? Sorry to be so prosaic, but it was Munich. Three overwrought baroque castles were knitted together to make a single, vast, labyrinthine hotel.
You could go crazy trying to untangle Alain Resnais’ sinuous jigsaw, one location flowing seamlessly into another, the layout of the garden endlessly changing and doors not always opening onto the same room.
Not surprisingly, the major location, a gigantic rococo palace where elegantly attired guests play arcane games, was once home to the famously extravagant King Ludwig I. It’s Schloss Nymphenburg, 200 years in the building and half a mile from wingtip to wingtip, in a northwest suburb of the city. Ludwig, while struggling with his sexuality, managed to scandalise society by commissioning a series of portraits of women – including notorious courtesan Lola Montes – which now hang in the palace’s Schönheitengalerie (The Gallery of Beauties).
The largest of its kind in Germany, the palace is set in 500 acres of parkland, varying from the wild to the geometrically formal French-style gardens seen in the film. Nymphenburg can be reached by the number 12 streetcar or the 41 bus from downtown Munich. It’s open Tuesdays to Sundays.
In the grounds is the hunting lodge, Amalienburg, second of the movie’s locations. If ‘hunting lodge’ conjures up images of rustic simplicity, you’re in for a surprise. The interior is even more florid than Nymphenburg; a white, green and gold rococo fantasy centered around the sumptuous Spiegelsaal, the Hall of Mirrors. Resnais has loads of fun here with the endless reflections, seen over the opening monologue and used as the setting for the concert of the final evening together of A (Delphine Seyrig) and X (Giorgio Albertazzi).
The plainer exterior, seen as ‘Frederiksbad’ in Albertazzi’s memories and in the framed pictures throughout the film, is the Neues Schloss of Schloss Schleissheim, housing the Bayerische Staatsgalerie collection of baroque art. Find it to the northwest of Munich, on the S-1 urban line and the 292 bus to Oberschleissheim.
You won’t be able to see the classical statue of Charles III and his wife, which appears to move constantly about the gardens, though. Based on characters in a painting by Nicolas Poussin, it was built specially for the movie. You can pose in the formal gardens, but if you want to appear as stylish as the cast, the trick is to organise your own accessories. Unlike the trees, the humans cast impossibly long, dramatic shadows – these were actually painted onto the ground.
The real Marienbad, by the way, or more properly Marianske Lazne, which has no connection with the movie at all, is a spa town in the Czech Republic about 80 miles west of Prague, south of Karlovy Vary.