Les Herbes Folles - Wild Grass
|Edouard Baert||Narrator (voice)|
|Directed by||Alain Resnais|
At 88, Alain Resnais is young enough to have fun, and old enough to enjoy fun's dark side. Resnais, unlike most of his comrades in the French New Wave, was already a veteran filmmaker when that cinematic revolution boiled up out of Paris a half century ago. He was 37, with more than twenty years of movie-making under his belt, when he filmed the haunting Hiroshima, Mon Amour (1959), and then followed it with classics like Last Year at Marienbad (1961) and La Guerre Est Fini (1966). His rap sheet runs to almost 50 movies over more than seven decades.
The movies mentioned above don't conjure playfulness, but the director's recent output has run more to the whimsical, with features like Smoking/No Smoking and Private Fears in Public Places, both adapted from comedies by British playwright Alan Ayckbourn. Wild Grass is alternately funny, bizarre, disconnected, ominous, vibrant, and dangerous. Resnais begins with long introductions to his two principals, Marguerite (Sabine Azéma) and Georges (André Dussollier), whom we follow, without seeing their faces, while a narrator (Edouard Baer) sketches in some background.
Marguerite is a striking middle-aged woman with a shock of frizzy flaming hair that resembles a chia of wild red grass, and a wide-eyed look of perpetual astonishment. She's a dentist, a pilot, a shoe fetishist, and a lonely single woman who may be on the lookout for love from either side of the gender aisle. There's the vague suggestion of intimacy with her best friend Josépha (Emmanuelle Devos), a dentist with whom she shares office space. As the film opens Marguerite goes shopping for a pair of shoes because she likes the touch of a particular salesgirl. As she leaves the store her purse is snatched. "A commonplace incident," the narrator observes, and one that sets the story in motion.
Her discarded wallet is found in an underground parking garage by Georges. As he examines its contents, a couple of tacky teenage girls walks by, and Georges, reflecting that "everything is excusable except bad taste," finds himself experiencing and quickly repressing what seems to be an impulse to violence. There's something sinister in George's past to which we're never privy. Was it a sex crime? Did he do time? Is it all in his head?
This notion of unreliability reverberates through the movie. Resnais will not be pinned down. It's often impossible to tell what's real and what's a figment of the imagination. The film is narrated by several voices, the main narrator buffered by interior monologues supplied by the principals, and none of them is what you'd swear was dependable. Georges, for instance, several times volunteers the information that he is about fifty, the accuracy of which claim is belied by his grizzled features. Georges is intrigued by the photos in the wallet he has found, and even more by Marguerite's pilot's license. He's an aviation fan, and finds himself yearning to meet this woman. Unable to reach her on the phone, he finally turns the wallet over to the police, but still continues to be obsessed with her. Georges, it must be said, has a lovely and apparently loving wife (Anne Consigny), but this does not seem to keep him from going out most nights on the prowl.
The story, said to have been very freely adapted by Resnais and screenwriters Alex Réval and Laurent Herbiet from Christian Gailly's 1996 novel L'Incident, moves on through a series of stalkings and plot twists and police incidents and unlikely encounters, as this bizarre love story unfolds on various levels of credibility. Some of it is Resnais having fun with movie conventions, using split-screen inserts and cinematographer Eric Gautier's candy-hued palette of colors, swooping and leaping with ecstatic pans and crane shots, drenching the whole thing in Mark Snow's jazzy score. He even provides us with a couple of endings, with a swelling "Fin" on the screen over a Douglas Sirkian lovers' embrace only to be followed by another denouement. Resnais, like his colleagues in the New Wave, was in love with Hollywood movies before that romance soured.
In Wild Grass, Georges goes to see the William Holden-Grace Kelly Korean War drama The Bridges at Toko-Ri, only to remark sadly upon leaving that it doesn't seem as wonderful as it used to.
Resnais works with some of his regular actors, and gets delicious performances out of them. Dussolier in particular is irresistibly elusive as George. Azéma is appealing in an off-kilter, unreliable sort of way. And there's a hilarious deadpan turn as a cop by Mathieu Amalric (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly).
The wild grass of the title is the unquenchable sort that pushes up through the cracks in city pavement, defying the odds and the most inhospitable of environments. Metaphorically it could refer to the unlikely romance that flowers, or never quite flowers, between the middle-aged principals. It could also be extended to Alain Resnais, who keeps sprouting marvelous artistic herbage at an age when most of his contemporaries are pushing up grass from a different perspective. At last year's Cannes Festival, the old warhorse got a lifetime achievement award, possibly because they couldn't figure out what else to make of him.
© Text 2010 Jonathan Richards - Filmfreak.be