Wild Grass *** ½
Directed By: Alain Resnais.
Written By: Alex Réval & Laurent Herbiet, based on the novel L'Incident by Christian Gailly
Starring: André Dussollier (Georges Palet), Sabine Azéma (Marguerite Muir), Anne Consigny (Suzanne), Mathieu Amalric (Bernard de Bordeaux), Emmanuelle Devos (Josepha), Edouard Baer (Narrator).
Alain Resnais is one of the most daring filmmakers in history. For his films Night and Fog, Hiroshima, Mon Amour, Last Year at Marienbad and Muriel in the 1950s and 60s, he established himself as one of the masters of the French New Wave. He has never stopped working in the years since, even if his films have become somewhat more obscure, and less highly touted. Now at 87, he has made Wild Grass that many critics believe is his best film in years. And while I quite liked the film, I must admit that I do not see the masterpiece that others see – but that doesn’t mean that Resnais is not back in fine form.
The film is about the strange connection between two strangers, and how their relationship progresses when one character finds the others wallet. Sabine Azema plays a woman who goes shopping one day and has her purse snatched by an unknown assailant. Andre Dussollier finds her wallet in the parking lot of a local mall. After some debate as to what to do, he decides to turn the wallet over to the police, here represented by Mathieu Amalric. When Azema picks up the wallet, she asks about the man who found it. She calls him up to thank him, but Dussollier is not satisfied with a simple thank you. He wants more. He starts writing Azema long winded letters about himself, and making phone calls to her. At first she is annoyed - she even goes back to Amalric to report him, who goes to see Dussolier to tell him to back off. But then Azema has a change of heart, and starts wanting to connect with him. By then, he has lost interest though. He is married to a much younger woman (Anne Consigny), with two grown children, and has decided to stick with his normal life.
The movie is a very strange comedy, based on the irrationality of the characters. Why do these characters behave the way they do, and make the decisions that they do? Honestly, I have to admit that I have no idea. To some this may seem charming, and it was for me for the first two thirds of the movie. But in the last act, I grew frustrated. It can be thrilling in a movie, even a seemingly lightweight comedy like this one, when you have no idea what is going to happen next - but when it’s based on the completely irrational behavior of the characters, it started to grate on my nerves a little bit.
Yet, having said all of that, it is impossible to deny the skill that is involved in making this film. Eric Gautier’s cinematography favors wonderful, swooping crane shots and the use of color in the movie is mesmerizing. And while I do not think I ever fully comprehended the characters, it is clear that the actors all do, as their performances are all wonderful. Dussolier has the central role, and his face is one of the most fascinating I can recall seeing on an actor. He seems to always be thinking about something, and mulling over his options as each new development happens. Azema is more of a free spirit, and she is equally wonderful. Consigny is quite good as the wife who has no idea what is going on, and Emmanuelle Devos is fun as Azema’s best friend who find herself drawn into the events without ever quite understanding them. Best of all may just be Amalric as the increasingly put upon cop, who is just trying to stay sane. And while I’m not sure if every scene leads effectively into the next one, taken by themselves they all work wonderfully well.
I cannot help but admire Resnais, who at an age when most filmmakers, are well, dead, is still taking chances, and still pulling off much of what he attempts. There are not many directors of any age, who would attempt something like Wild Grass, and even fewer who could make something this good out of it. Perhaps I just need to see the film again to fully appreciate it. I saw it at the Toronto Film Festival, and sometimes in the midst of seeing fives films a day, and going on little sleep, the more complex movies sometimes seem overly so. Whatever the answer, Wild Grass is certainly one of the more interesting films of the year, even if I do not think it is necessarily a great one.
Note: After writing this in review in full – I did not change a word – I went read the rather lengthy review of the film in the September/October issue of Film Comment. What I came away with from that reading, was that I did not really miss the point of the movie. It is about the irrationality of its characters in the depths of “mad love”, and the confusion is all part of the fun. This makes me feel good. I still admire Resnais’s film – the camera work, the colors, the performances, the brilliant Vertigo homage at the center of it all – but I still don’t quite love it. Strangely though, I think I want to see the film a second time now more than I wanted to see the film the first time.