It is a tragedy of human existence to be helplessly aware of time’s passing, and to lose time during the act of longing for it. Something in this is also funny. For over 60 years Alain Resnais has made sharp and sweet tragicomedies about our relationship to time, including his new Life of Riley and 1968’s long-unavailable Je t’aime je t’aime, which screens at Film Forum in a new 35mm print.
The older film centers on Claude Ridder (played lithely by Claude Rich), a war veteran and recent near-suicide inducted by scientists to participate in an experiment that will transport him back to relive one minute of his life. What happens instead is that Claude, hooked up inside a large, weirdly shaped bulb, returns to several moments from throughout his previous 17 years, seemingly simultaneously, with many of them involving his mysteriously depressive former love Catrine (a quiet Olga Georges-Picot).
Brief, non-chronological flashes of scenes repeat themselves as newly revealed information changes their meanings each time. Claude emerges from Riviera water and walks backward toward the relaxed Catrine on a beach; he mourns her absence and even possible death in Glasgow; they meet for the first time at their shared envelope-stuffing office in Belgium; they lie in bed in his apartment, seeking refuge from the world.
The researchers fret outside Claude’s private sphere over whether they’ll be able to rescue him from the past, an effort perhaps doomed to failure. Claude — like so many — spends his life there.