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A wallet lost and found opens the door to romantic adventure for Georges and Marguerite. After examining the ID papers of its owner, it is not a simple matter for Georges to turn the red wallet he found in to the police. Nor is it that Marguerite can recuperate her wallet without being piqued with curiosity about whom it was who found it. As they navigate the social protocols of giving and acknowledging thanks, turbulence enters their otherwise quotidian lives. Written by
'Mama, when I become a cat, will I be able to eat cat munchies?'
The great master of the French cinema, Alain Resnais, has produced this bizarre, brilliantly made and intensely surrealist 'crazy masterpiece'. It is based upon a novel entitled 'l'Incident' ('The Incident') with which I am unfamiliar, so it is difficult to know how much of this film originated from the febrile brain of Resnais himself. The story and its treatment carry on the long-standing French traditions of two literary movements: surrealism and 'unanisme'. The surrealist input is immediately obvious, because the story itself, although realistically portrayed, is inherently entirely surrealist. It begins with an 'incident', namely the theft of a purse from a woman who has been shopping in the Palais Royale in Paris. For several minutes we do not even see her face, but only the back of her head, and her face only appears for the first time floating in a bath. It was André Breton's famous surrealist novel 'Nadja' which focused the minds of the entire French intelligentsia upon the importance of chance events which lead to chains of further complications and create a whole alternative future to that which might have been. (Kieslowski and other film directors have exploited this motif in numerous films.) This story commences in just such a way. And then further chance events ensue, such as the man finding the stolen purse and becoming obsessed with the woman who owned it, especially because she has a pilot's licence in the purse and he is obsessed by airplanes and female solo pilots. The influence of 'unanisme' on this story is shown by the intense portrayals of only tiny portions of the backgrounds, stories, and motives of the characters, with the emphasis being given to them acting as a group, and we the viewers being left to imagine the rest. In other words, exposition is below the minimum, and we never do learn what is wrong with all these crazy people, and it is their interrelations which dominate. These techniques were above all pioneered and demonstrated by the French novelist Jules Romains, who founded the literary movement known as 'unanisme'. Having read 27 novels by Romains, I have more than a passing familiarity with his work. It has been more influential than people tend to realize. It must be kept firmly in mind that this Resnais film contains a great deal of gnomic humour and sly jokes. It is not meant to be taken any more seriously than life itself. Some of the references are incomprehensible, as they are doubtless meant to be: why do we keep seeing the camera moving over swaying wild grass in a field? Why do we see so many pavement cracks with tufts of wild grass growing out of them? We shall never know. Many of the shots, editing, compositions, angles, and moods are so outstanding that we can see clearly that Resnais has lost none of his genius in his long career. As always, much in this film is never meant to be explained, but is only suggested, and we can make of it what we will. All of the leading characters are eventually shown to be seriously mentally unbalanced, and I take this as Resnais's view of humanity generally. And who can say he is wrong? There is a lot to be said for the theory that everybody is insane. That would then explain everything about the world. In fact, the only sane person in this film seems to be the little girl who asks about the cat munchies. And we do not even know who she is. This film is funny, sad, shocking, upsetting, provocative, thoughtful, disturbing, incomprehensible, deeply meaningful, irrational, profound, and many other things besides, but why use up all the adjectives when there is a compulsively fascinating movie to watch instead.
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