Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Resnais' WILD GRASS grows in limited release. What elegant, imaginative fun!

Don't look to master filmmaker Alain Resnais for conventionality. You just won''t find it, even if, for a moment or two, you think you have. Resnais has never met a cliché he does not enjoy upending, and in his new film WILD GRASS, he exults in offering us moments to approach, observe, get our minds around and then -- swoosh! -- he pulls the rug out from under us.  But the fall is such fun.

M. Resnais (at left) is a film director; he almost never writes the films he makes (his last adaptation was for Mélo in 1986). He is content to serve as a conduit for the story the writer has told, and this is why his style, if you can ever pin it down, will surely change with his next movie. If his track record moves up and down, the ups are many and most prominent, from Last Year at Marienbad, Muriel, Providence to some of his later larks like Not on the Lips and  Life Is a Bed of Roses. Even with his rare "down" (I Want to Go Home), you can yet applaud his trying something new.

The filmmaker is in lark mode once again, as he has been generally of late (except for Private Fears in Public Places) and as perhaps befits a gentleman of 88 years.  Though Wild Grass deals with some heavy stuff -- infidelity and stalking, mugging and robbery, love and death -- it's all handled so delicately, delightfully that you realize once more: It's the telling, not the tale, that creates  the mood. When was the last time a line like, "So you do love me!" caused an audience to explode with laughter?  You've heard of "the Lubitsch touch"; think of this as the Resnais goose.

What is so wonderful here is how the director is able to tap into our expectations about everything from love and shopping (above) to desire and dentistry (and movies!) and then upend these, making us consider them from a different angle, in a different light.  I won't go into plot, but even if I did, it wouldn't quite make sense -- though it will, somehow, as you are experiencing it.  

For his protagonists (other than we viewers: Resnais forces us into these roles and makes us do some heavy lifting, nowhere more than at the end of the film), the director offers two of France's currents icons: the gorgeously craggy-faced André Dussollier (above) and that frizzy, red-haired delight, Sabine Azéma (below). Both have worked often for the director (I believe Ms Azéma doubles as Mme. Resnais) and they ring their many changes like the pros they are, with flair and utter dedication.

In lesser roles appear some other terrific actors like Emmanuelle Devos as Sabine's dental partner, Anne Consigny (shown two photos below) as Dussolier's extremely understanding wife and Mathieu Amalric (below, right) as a helpful, interested police officer.  As good as the cast is -- very -- it's finally the director and his vision, taken from the novel L'Incident by Christian Gailly, as adapted for the screen by Alex Reval and Laurent Herbiet, that carries the day.  The reason is that Resnais is able to find proper visual equivalents for so many things -- incidents, moods, behaviors -- via his choice of edits, colors, lighting, sound. (The fine cinematography is by Eric Gautier.)

The filmmaker even -- and especially -- uses movies, and how we observe and process them, to makes some interesting points.  (There's a faux ending, and then an ending, and then... something more.)  But mainly Resnais explores the mystery of character and event -- and their collision.

What this director does, as I as am now beginning to understand, is what he has always done: force us to use our imaginations, just as he uses his.  At film's end occurs an odd incident that appears to have little relationship to anything that has gone before. Immediately after the screening that I and a friend attended, much of the exit/elevator/lobby conversation had to do with the meaning of this final incident.  I had my theory, as did others in the crowd. On the way to the subway, my friend suggested that the key to that moment lay in using "imagination," just as the child on-screen is doing.  I think he's right. See what you think.  But see this movie.

Wild Grass, via Sony Picture Classics, open Friday, June 25, in New York and on July 2 in Los Angeles, with a limited national rollout to follow.

All photos are from the film itself, except that of M. Resnais, 
which comes courtesy and copyright of AbacaPress.

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