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The 87-year-old French New Wave veteran directs his longtime star and
companion Sabine Azéma (27 years his junior) and regular co-star André
Dusollier in this adaptation of an idiosyncratic novel by Christian
Gailly about a man and a woman who become fascinated with each other
when the man finds the woman's stolen wallet.
The essence of the piece is that the principals are hesitant, indecisive, and a mite crazy. Their experience is the kind that falls through the cracks of well-ordered existence. Hence the new title replacing Gailly's "The Incident," to "Les herbes folles," "crazy grasses." There's a recurrent image of wild grass growing high among stones.
The comfy suburban house of Georges (Dusollier) feels rather like that of Jean-Louis Trintignant outside Geneva, and like Kieslowski's 'Red,' this film is about trying to connect, and has a protagonist who's both respectable and an outlaw. Georges is paranoid about being recognized by police, as if he's done something wrong or been in jail. Yet he has two charming grown children (Sara Forestier, Vladimir Consigny), and a loving and equally appealing wife, Susanne (Anne Consigny, familiar to US French film fans from Schnabel's 'Diving Bell' and Desplechin's 'Christmas Tale'). Georges never acquires a full back-story, but Dusollier is brilliant at depicting his mercurial temperament, and a continual pleasure to watch, as is the equally live-wire Azéma.
Marguerite Muir (Azéma) is a dentist who shares an office with the offbeat French film diva Emmanuelle Devos. Another big French film actor, Matthieu Amalric, plays the cop in the station to whom Georges delivers the found wallet. Strong newcomer Nicolas Duvauchelle, a former boxer, plays Georges' daughter's boyfriend, and he invites Georges to come watch him fight, as well as to use the familiar "tu" with him, but Georges doesn't do either.
Muir has put off till tomorrow reporting the purse-snatching that happened after she bought an expensive pair of shoes. Georges looks up Marguerite and has her phone number and address, but can't bring himself to call her. Georges and Marguerite wind up stalking each other, and the police become involved to call Georges off.
One can see how this could be a quirky, amusing novel, and the innumerable missteps, oversteps, and hesitations would work well verbally. This kind of convoluted mental quirkiness is hard to translate, which is why idiosyncratic literary masterpieces like Sterne's Tristram Shandy have defied the impulse to adapt them cinematically, though Michael Winterbottom made a sporting try (shown in the 2005 NYFF and reviewed by me here). Resnais' task is to find a visual equivalent. The highly mobile camera of Eric Gautier is a considerable asset. On the other hand the jazzy music of Hollywood composer Mark Snow is sometimes merely obtrusive, as at a family gathering where the sax pointlessly overwhelms the scene. But on the other hand it's warm and enveloping in an old-fashioned way in the opening sequences when the two main characters are introduced and we're meant to be charmed and drawn in, and we are.
Resnais and Gailly did not collaborate, at Gaillys' request; he wanted to be left alone to work on his next novel. One of the ways Resnais portrays confused intentions is to show cameos of imagined actions in frames where the character is doing something else; and another is that most obvious interjection of the literary into the cinematic, the use of frequent voice-overs. The production is expensive for a French art film, involving fairly lavish sets and scenes involving small airplanes. One of the links between Georges is that his father wanted to be a pilot and he loves aviation, while Marguerite actually has a pilot's license.
Though Assistant Director Christophe Jeauffroy may have done a lot of the work for the aging master, there are many of the latter's familiar touches, including a lot of rapid cutting early on that recalls his 1963 'Muriel ou Le temps d'un retour.' A director but not a writer whose early fame was due to adaptations of Marguerite Duras ('Hiroshima mon amour') and Alain Robbe-Grillet ('Last Year at Marienbad'), which represent totally opposed sensibilities, Resnais here tries on yet another one. The result is far more conventional than those Sixties films, and on the glossy and mainstream side, veering between farce and melodrama. 'Wild Grass' is full of assurance, and engages from the start. It may disappoint viewers in search of something more profound, more meditative, or funnier, but it's still a work of considerable accomplishment and doubtless may reward repeat viewings by devotees.
Show as an official selection of the NYFF 2009 at Lincoln Center.
"After cinema, nothing surprises us." Narrator
In Wild Grass, Georges (Andre Dussollier) finds a wallet, finds the owner, Marguerite (Sabine Azema), and finds an odd connection with her and his inner self. I have no idea if I'm right in all of thisdirector Alain Resnais (Last Year at Marienbad) has never been easy, but its obscurity seemed to tell me something about being human and quite a bit about wild-ass filmmaking by an 88 year old director who's throwing everything into the pot and hoping it comes out a tasty stew. What Georges is pursuing in Marguerite, an eccentric dentist, is part a romantic notion of his past as it may relate to the cinema and yet the painful recollection of past deeds too dark to articulate. That cinema is artificial is a leitmotif at least. His acceptance, her acceptance, and their recurring animosity reflect in relief the vicissitudes of love in all the sordid glory from cinema.
Even trips to the police for each of them are more like therapy sessions than the business of identifying the robbery victim (Marguerite) and thanking the finder (Georges). The same policeman, reacting with the incredulity that usually comes only from the audience, lends a surreal take on the strange antics of the principals. Resnais is at full force, even in his eighties, with symbolism from wild grass growing in concrete cracks, unusual feet and shoes, a stolen bag floating almost free, and aviation that like cinema floats free but not without its rules. He creates these images as motifs in order to make order of Georges' obsessions, which become erotic and dangerous even as he seems more lost in his dreams and cinema than ever before.
As George repeatedly backs into the protection of the door to the cinema, we can be quite sure Resnais is certifying the salutary and comforting embrace of film.
That dreamlike state, with the voice over so kindly parsing some of George's passions, is best expressed in the cinema, where Bridges at Toko-Ri makes solid the theme of lost friendship and the transforming of reality into our own visions.
WILD GRASS (LES HERBES FOLLES) is based on the novel 'L'incident' by
Christian Gailly, a writer who delights in taking simple incidents and
pushing them to the extremes of climax beyond which few would ever
dream. But Alain Resnais has taken this novel (adapted by Alex Reval
and Laurent Herbiet), infused it with his own characteristic joy of
playing reality versus imagination, memory versus illusion, and has
come up with a film that will likely have a limited audience, but for
those who delight in letting go and simply flying along with the
imagination of a genius or two, then WILD GRASS will satisfy and more.
The story is a romance in the manner of a hesitation waltz. The story is narrated (by Edouard Baer) to give the opening aspects of the story momentum. Marguerite Muir (Sabine Azéma), a dentist and Spitfire pilot, has just purchased shoes and leaves the store when her handbag is snatched by a running thief. Later, the aging Georges Palet (André Dussollier) finds a red wallet in a parking lot, examines the contents, struggles with the burden of what to do, and finally turns the wallet in to the police, Bernard de Bordeaux (Mathieu Amalric) who takes his name in case there is a reward. Georges returns home to his wife Suzanne (Anne Consigny), who understands that Georges' strange behavior since his father's recent death may be enhanced by a new predicament: Georges is worried about the incident. He places telephone calls to Marguerite, visits her home, writers her letters - all of which confounds him as to his obsession with the woman he has never met. Georges family (he has two children) find his preoccupation strange and indeed Georges seems to have a dark secret from his past that causes him to have minor verbal explosions that seem wholly inappropriate. The incident becomes his life.
Meanwhile Marguerite shares her 'stalker' with her fellow dental assistant Josepha (Emmanuelle Devos) who attempts to manage Marguerite's change in behavior. Marguerite now is the one who needs to know more about Georges and stalks him. Ultimately Marguerite invites Georges to accompany her and her fellow pilots on a practice flight and a wildly entertaining practice flight game ensues: both Georges and Marguerite navigate the social protocols of giving and acknowledging appreciation and this bizarre catch as catch can romance comes to a Hollywood end - complete with flashbacks to old films etc. The audience is left to figure out just what has really happened - is this a wild love story on a collision course or is it simply a pair of fantasias played by two strange, emotionally isolated, and bored people, longing for life to perk up a bit?
Just as the title WILD GRASS suggests, little incidents (or invasions of wild grass into cracks and interstices quite by accident) can cause a butterfly effect and that is where the now 87 year old Resnais feels most at home. The irresistibly colorful cinematography is courtesy Eric Gautier and the perfect musical scoring is by Mark Snow. The danger in any kind of surrealism theme is that the audience becomes concerned that much of it doesn't make since. And so it is here, where even with the aid of the narrator there are many twists and turns that seem simply flights of fancy - and they probably are!
A surreal, madcap, on-again, off-again romance between a married
63-year old father of two and a middle-aged dentist and airline pilot
is the subject of 87-year old French director Alain Resnais' latest
film, Wild Grass. Based on Christian Gailly's novel, The Incident, from
a screenplay by Laurent Herbiet and Alex Reval, Wild Grass treats its
characters with respect and humor, yet the film, winner of the Jury
Special Prize at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, stands out more for the
colorful cinematography by Eric Gautier and fine acting from Resnais'
regulars Sabine Azéma and André Dussollier than for its puzzling
The couple, Marguerite Muir (Azéma) and Georges Palet (Dussollier), meet after Marguerite, out shopping for a new pair of shoes, has her purse stolen by a thief on roller blades and consequently loses her red wallet filled with money, credit cards, and identification papers. Georges, however, recovers Marguerite's lost wallet beneath the wheel of his car and returns it to the police. Interested in aviation and intrigued by a photo of the wallet's owner dressed in a pilot's outfit, Georges decides that he wants to meet her.
After the police inform Marguerite that her wallet has been turned in, she calls Georges to say thank you but he is expecting more and his longing for connection is not satisfied, beginning a pursuit that soon becomes an obsession. He sends her letters, leaves messages on her phone, and slashes her tires to keep her at home but she wants nothing to do with him. Ultimately he persists until she informs the police of the unwanted intrusion in her life. Typical of the screwball relationship, however, she suddenly begins to pursue Georges on her own, making visits to his house late at night and waiting for him in a café outside of a movie theatre where he is watching a favorite film from his childhood, The Bridges at Toko Ri. "You love me, then," Georges exclaims when he sees her for the first time.
Throughout it all, there is an underlying hint of danger with suggestions made about Georges' possibly violent past which outbursts of temper seem to underscore. Even so, everything is handled with a light touch and one never fears for Marguerite's safety and elements of danger or even horror are quickly replaced by rapid shots of romance and even snippets of musicals. Like other aged directors swan songs, Rohmer's The Romance of Astrea and Celadon, Bergman's Saraband, and Kurosawa's Madadayo, Resnais', in his latest work, continues to grow and experiment, although some may say that the styles of these octogenarian directors have basically remained consistent throughout their careers.
Far removed from the seriousness of his most famous films, Hiroshima, Mon Amour and Last Year at Marienbad, just when you think you have figured out Wild Grass, Resnais' whimsy keeps shifting into new territory and its bizarre twists and turns, fake endings, and character reversals will keep you off balance right up until the film's final frame. Like the wild grass in the title which grows where it is least expected, nothing is predictable in this playful but often too cutesy little film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
WOW! What a film and it's shocking to see all the negative reviews here. This is a thinking man's movie, which complements 'The Seventh Seal' where that Ingmar Bergman classic is overt about death, this is more subtle and confounding. This is not a surface entertain us plot line; rather, it's subterfuge for the real intent. SPOILER ALERT! Rewatch this film and view the female dentist as Death. It explains the way the main character reacts the entire movie, especially to the police when they arrive to speak with him, what he says about his neighbor committing suicide. You'll notice throughout the film how the MC alternates between reaching out to embrace 'death' and angrily spurning 'death'. I did not clue in on this until the last two minutes of the movie when the wife asks 'death's dentist colleague if she wants to join them and she says, absolutely not! (You'll notice at the end, the MC kisses death, accepting his fate) That's when I knew and sure enough, the MC's soul soars into the heavens until the plane crashes and it is received back into the grave of wild grass or is the soul reincarnated as the little girl asks, if she becomes a cat in her next life? Yes, at the end, I can see the woman writing a novel and all this is in her imagination, but this plays like David Lynch's 'Mulholland Drive' with multiple interpretations. No one will be truly satisfied with one interpretation or another but it does make us think and for that, the director did his job.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Last Year at Marienbad is one of my all-time favorite films. I like
Hiroshima, Mon Amour, too, but find it less compelling (I know others
would disagree with me). I am no stranger to anti-realist, surrealist,
and experimental film. I thought it would be interesting to see a
recent Resnais film that was actually available at Redbox! I was wrong.
Wild Grass is neither amusing nor interesting. It is tedious, ridiculous, and nonsensical (and not in a good way). It "hints" at many aspects of the main character's past and personality, playfully suggesting he was a convicted murderer or rapist who has served his time. In addition to that, he acts in completely contradictory ways, is usually irrational and petulant, and is lecherous, dumb, and abusive to women. He slashes the woman's tires and she eventually finds this kind of behavior irresistible? He sexually assaults her business partner/friend in the latter's car, and the friend enjoys it? Can you say "misogyny"?
And we're supposed to believe this beautiful young woman is his wife? I kept thinking: I must have gotten it wrong; this must be his daughter who is, for some reason, pretending to be his wife. A colossal casting error this alone. Maybe she was identified toward the beginning of the film as his daughter, but I couldn't bring myself to care enough to go back and re-watch the beginning.
The main characters seem to have a lot of money, suggesting some level of responsibility (the woman, after all, is a dentist), but they act worse than teenagers, and even more irrationally and self-destructively. I felt compelled to see how it would end, but was, predictably, annoyed with myself for having wasted so much of my time. This is a very stupid film and I would not recommend it to anyone.
And one reviewer here gave us the "key" to the film: the dentist represents Death! Wow. As if Ingmar Bergman never existed? If I have to read the film metaphorically in that way, then it depends entirely on a secret "key" that 99 percent of viewers will not get. I could think of nothing more pretentious than that. No thanks.
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
By turns cerebral, thought-provoking, pretentious and off-putting,
"Wild Grass" is a tale of two strangers who become inexplicably
obsessed with one another.
Adapted by Alex Reval and Laurent Herbiet from the novel "L'Incident" by Christian Gailly, and directed by the legendary French New Waver Alain Resnais, "Wild Grass" focuses on what happens after Georges (Andrei Dussollier), a middle-aged married man who's an aviation aficionado and all-around nut-case, finds a stolen wallet belonging to Marguerite Muir (Sabine Azema), a frizzy-haired (could it be the "wild grass" of the title?) red-headed dentist who flies propeller planes in her spare time. Without even knowing the woman, Georges finds himself inexorably drawn to her, and he'll stop at nothing to insinuate himself into her life. In turn, Marguerite, a single woman who appears to have been boycotting beauty salons her whole life, develops mixed feelings for this man who has essentially become a stalker and who has even gone so far as to slash the tires on her car. And before you know it, Marguerite has become so unstrung and neurotic in her own right that she's sleeping in the cockpit of her plane and has become such a sadist with the dental drill that she would give Dr. Christian Szell - or the Marquis de Sade, for that matter - a run for his money in a pain-inflicting sweepstakes.
The off-putting nature of the film comes from the fact that the characters often feel more like the product of a writer's imagination than organic outgrowths from the real world. Their motivations and responses are almost maddeningly preposterous and unclear at times and, as a consequence, our patience with their behavior wears decidedly thin after awhile. There are other distractions as well, such as Marguerite's extraordinarily unmanaged Little Orphan Annie coiffure (we find ourselves wanting to cry out, "Why don't you run a damn comb through that thing?") and the self-conscious cinephilia that is oh-so-typical of French filmmakers.
On the positive side, Resnais manages to achieve a hypnotic rhythm with his fluidly flowing tracking shots, and there are definitely some elements of style and theme from some of Resnais' bona fide classics, like "Hiroshima, Mon Amour" and "Last Year at Marienbad," running through this work (the nature of intimacy between strangers and near-strangers being just one of the issues touched upon in all three films).
However, these few virtues are not enough to overcome the unlikable nature of the storyline and the two loony and self-absorbed folk who serve as its protagonists. So I guess it's only appropriate that the movie culminate in a spectacularly stupid and laughable into-the-wild-blue-yonder finale that literally, as well as figuratively, crashes and burns on its way to that much delayed but highly appreciated "fin," signaling the end of our ordeal. A fond farewell to all around.
WILD GRASS, aka "Les Herbes Folles" in French, is aptly titled,
naturellement. Such grass that grows wild, is unpredictable in how it
blooms and affects its surrounding neighbors. It can be amazing or
annoying, subtle or gregarious. Consulting my French-English
dictionary: 'herbe' is grass, while 'folle' does mean mad, wild,
foolish. Either way, veteran French filmmaker Alan Resnais, emboldened
by his worthy age and years in the world of cinema, gave us quite a
treat to what the joy of cinema can truly be, a film about a pair of
'madman and madwoman' - 'folles' foolish, tremendously so or otherwise.
The story is a series of events string together, seemingly easy to follow, with the comfort of a narrator voice-over interjecting certain rhyme or reason - the varying plot points converge, yet without notice, diverge also. Scratching your head? Don't mind that - ignore the inquisitive curious "why's" - why ever not! Go along with the characters offered and enjoy the ride.
A fabulous French cast: Sabine Azéma again is the leading lady Maguerite in exciting red frizzy hair-do, André Dussollier is Georges exuding his baffled charm in the guise of nonchalance, Anne Consigny is the unperturbed wife of Georges, Mathieu Amalric (of "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" 2007) is one curiously affable French Police, Emmanuelle Devos (of "Read My Lips" 2001) is dear friend and go-between Josépha to Maguerite. At times the characters and situations might classify as caricature-like. The style and approach of cinematography (by Éric Gautier) and editing (by Hervé De Luze) skilfully call upon different genres and nostalgic inferences to cinema fantastique, along with vivid colorful set design, as seen in Maguerite's living space.
The wisdom of employing music by composer Mark Snow (of "The X-Files" who had collaborated with Resnais on his prior film "Private Fears in Public Places" 2006) deftly matches Resnais' non-conforming storytelling with mystery-tale notes infused, then it's catchy jazz rhythm, to gliding unobtrusive scores, sheer glove-fitting music accompaniment enhancing our Resnais-induced cinematic experience, indisputable.
I suspect Georges could still be under the influence of his 'grief' phase to his father's recent passed away, that any behavior irrational can be forgivingly disregarded by partner, family, friends. On the other hand, for Marguerite, she's probably bored by the day in and day out routines of her dentistry bread & butter profession, so why not succumb to a total stranger and go loop the loops in the vast sky of possibilities. Sure sounds dreamlike, capricious, unscrupulously playful - certainement. We are blessed with this dessert délicieux from Resnais at 87 (in 2009), hence ask not why. It's Wild Grass - no foreseen reason or logic. Take it in stride and s'amuser.
Bonus noted: subtitles were by Ian Burley, my favorite French/Italian film translator, who provided the outstanding subtitles in "Bread and Tulips" 2000. He was absolutely keen in matching rhymes on the English subtitles to the French lyrics sung in Resnais 1997 "Same Old Song" aka 'On Connaît la Chanson'.
Wild Grass begins, more or less, with a man finding a stolen wallet and
returning it to the woman it belongs to. He then becomes obsessed with
said woman and stalks and harasses her. She falls obsessively in love
with him in turn, like you do.
Okay, let's cut straight to the point: the script is dreck, concealing its misogyny under layers of nonsensical character interaction and forced quirk. Cinephiles, who have never been really concerned with scripts in the first place, have lapped this up and praised it as a sign that the octogenarian Renais still has it. (And as an aside, it is totally badass that him and Godard are both still making films at this point.) And that's not wrong. The actual film has all of the charm the script lacks: it looks gorgeous, and between the lead actors and Resnais's idiosyncratic directing the film manifests most of the charm its script tries for.
And that's all well and good, but a film cannot subsist on charm alone. It's no a long movie, but the back half felt like an eternity to me. If you like movies where people wander around Paris and talk about old movies, this one is for you. If you don't, this is pretty to look at, but it's best not to look beneath the surface.
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