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  • TBC
  • Comedy
  • 2009

Wild Grass

Wild Grass

Synopsis

Alain Resnais' eighteenth (and possibly last) feature summarises his fifty-year career in film as a mannered farce and a flight of fancy

About

There is a first time for everything. Wild Grass may be Alain Resnais' eighteenth feature, made exactly half a century after his extraordinary modernist debut Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), and rumoured to be the last film that the director (now in his late eighties) ever intends to make - but although he has previously worked with such luminaries of the nouveau roman as Marguerite Duras and Alain Robbe-Grillet (who scripted Hiroshima Mon Amour and 1961's Last Year In Marienbad respectively), Wild Grass represents the very first time that Resnais has essayed an adaptation of a novel, namely Christian Gailly's 'L'Incident'.

What emerges is a new experiment in the forms of genre that will confound, frustrate and occasionally delight, as one of France's most enduring auteurs shows that he can still mess about with our expectations of what cinema is, and is for.

The incident in question is the theft of a handbag belonging to dentist (and amateur aviatrix) Marguerite Muir, played by Resnais' regular collaborator - and wife - Sabine Azema. Middle-aged Georges Palet (Andre Dussollier, another Resnais regular) chances upon Marguerite's abandoned purse while out getting his slowing watch repaired ("It's bound to stop in the end - it's exhausted, just like me - why don't we just stop?", says Georges of his watch, all too aware, like Resnais himself, that his own time is running out). Georges is fascinated with the way Marguerite's two ID photos differ so dramatically, but then he too suffers from his own identity crisis, fancying himself a dangerous serial killer hunted by the police - a fantasy that the film's early nods to the thriller genre serve only to underline.

In fact, Georges is an altogether ordinary husband, father and grandfather, spending most of his time doing mundane chores in his cosy middle-class home while his younger wife Suzanne (Anne Consigny) runs a piano store - but Marguerite has sparked something in his imagination, while the sight of her pilot's license has reminded him of his own boyhood fantasies of flight, and so Georges begins stalking this complete stranger, harassing her with bizarre phone calls and letters.

When the tyres of her car are slashed, it is the last straw for Marguerite, and now the police (Mathieu Amalric, Michel Vuillermoz) really do come after Georges, even if they are more like comic keystone cops than grizzled noir 'tecs, and he has blue paint rather than blood on his hands. Then, almost exactly halfway through the film and (significantly) outside a cinema, Georges and Marguerite actually do meet for the first time - at which point he almost immediately loses all interest in her, even as she becomes utterly infatuated with him.

Tellingly, when Resnais premiered Wild Grass at Cannes in 2009, the director was presented with a Special Jury Prize and a Special Award in celebration of his whole career - but Wild Grass itself failed to win the Palme d'Or. All the key themes of Resnais' oeuvre - the strange traffic between fantasy and reality, the fluidity of identity, the disjunctures of time and memory - are present and correct in Wild Grass, but there is something about its inconsequentiality, its whimsy, and the essential dullness of its protagonist Georges, that makes it one of his slighter works, even if these very qualities are also what make it so quirkily bemusing.

Resnais decided to change the title of Gailly's novel to 'Les Herbes Folles', because he felt that the wild grass which determinedly pushes its way through cracks in asphalt (and which is seen at regular intervals in the film) was a perfect analogue for 'characters who follow totally unreasonable impulses'. An equally apt metaphor might have been Marguerite's doomed search in the opening scenes for a pair of shoes whose colours, shape and size would all match her unusually proportioned feet. For as Georges and Marguerite separately seek out a relationship that seems mismatched from the start, their experiences are dressed in generic forms (chiefly those of the thriller and romance) that never quite fit, making for a film whose very awkwardnesses are essential to its charms. After all, in their desire to break out of the monotony and banality of their bourgeois existences, Georges and Marguerite are really just like any filmgoer pursuing flights of wild fancy.

Resnais' swansong brims with the conventions and codes of cinema, even climaxing (without quite finishing) on a lover's embrace to the accompaniment of Twentieth Century Fox's familiar fanfare - but he also never forgets his film's novelistic origins, including the self-conscious device of an unseen narrator (voiced by Edouard Baer) throughout, and ending with a truly head-scratching coda in which all that has preceded is apparently reduced to an unknown woman's typings, even as the little girl beside her speculates on the the implications of (feline) metempsychosis. It's a first, all right.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: André Dussollier, Anne Consigny, Emmanuelle Devos, Mathieu Amalric, Sabine Azéma
  • Director: Alain Resnais
  • Producer: Jean-Louis Livi
  • Photographer: Eric Gautier
  • Composer: Mark Snow

In a nutshell

By teasing out the mismatch between the ordinary and the cinematic, Resnais' eccentric farce is slight and profound in equal measure.

by Anton Bitel

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