"Last Year at Marienbad" features an arithmetic roster of characters— all of whom we only come to know as A, X, and M— who are in an opulent, seemingly deserted European chateau. A, a female, is pursued by X, a man who insists he met her the year before; she cannot remember him. The entirety of the film is essentially a mediation on this conflict that I frankly find near impossible to put into words.
The straight truth about this film is that there is really nothing straight at all, and audiences who expect linear and clean-cut narrative structures should probably stay away. "Last Year at Marienbad" is a film that demands its audience to accept what it's offering at face value and allow themselves to be taken along for the journey, no matter how meandering, bizarre, or at times utterly incomprehensible it may be. I would liken it to the filmic equivalent of a hedge maze, though I'm not sure that really does it justice.
There is not much in the way of plot here, but rather a meditative, repetitious engagement with vague themes and settings. The camera floats throughout the ornate chateau, moving through crowds of actors that at times stand still as if portraiture, or ghosts; dialogue fades in and out under the throttling score of a pipe organ, dispensing some portions information and leaving others inaccessible. Phrases, scenes, and images are repeated almost as incantations—we have a context, roughly speaking, but the puzzle still remains unfinished by the end.
Aesthetically, I need not say more than that this film is beautiful, and contains some of the most stunning cinematography in film history. Though inarguably gorgeous and visually arresting, I do feel that many people fail to take note of just how unsettling this film really is. It defies categorization so I won't attempt that feat, but there is a sinister unease that pervades the entire film, largely intimated and unspoken; I would not call it a horror film, although I think there is a darker, more dangerous core than most people seem to be aware of. There are shades of Gothicism present, particularly in the way the film strives at capturing an atmosphere in favor of teleology.
I won't divulge my thoughts or interpretations on the film here as I feel it's the wrong place for it, but I will say that this is without a doubt one of the most haunting movies I've ever seen, and its influence is wide-ranging; I believe we can see bits of it in everything from 1962's "Carnival of Souls" to Ingmar Bergman to contemporary filmmakers. You will know from the reverberant opening scene whether or not this is a film you want to engage with; for some, it will do little more than frustrate, but for others, it will spellbind, unnerve, and utterly absorb you. 10/10.