Thursday, 18 November 2010

Wild Grass (Les herbes folles) (Alain Resnais, 2009) DVD Review

Wild Grass, the 18th film from 88-year-old nouvelle vague director Alain Resnais, is that strangest of things: a genre film without a genre. It's a romantic comedy, but it's not. Or is it? You will ask yourself this and many questions like it while watching Wild Grass. Scenes come and go with seemingly no purpose. Flashbacks intercut at inappropriate moments, or are they flashbacks at all? Perhaps they're more trickery, like the narration - what purpose does it serve? Who's perspective are we seeing the film from and why do characters randomly butt into the dialogue? If you're looking to this review for answers, you won't find them. I'm baffled. I'm baffled by the characters, the colour palette - hell, even the direction! Resnais is clearly playing with film form again but is Wild Grass a self conscious experiment (an in-joke with all involved)? Or is it an avant-garde genre piece? A waking dream designed for analysis but working on a much simpler, more human plane of existence? Why do scenes fade to black at the moment they provide answers? Georges (André Dussollier), a troubled soul who believes he has (and may well of) committed a murder, fears the police. An officer named Bernard (Mathieu Amalric) is suddenly struck with recognition, when looking through the bright blue gates at Georges. Cut to black. The same can be said of the films ending, or whichever of the three scenarios you choose to be the ending. The classic Hollywood embrace, set to the 20th Century Fox theme? The possible plane crash, hinted at from the opening frame? Or the 30 second closing shot of a mother - a writer? - being asked by her daughter "When I'm a cat, will I be able to eat cat munchies?" These are people we've never seen before. I've never been so unsure of a movie, so how can I review it? It would be dishonest, borderline pretentious, to propose insight that I don't have. So don't think of this as a review. Think of it as a discussion board. If you want to know what I think of the film, it's fantastic. It's deceptive, dangerous, magical, whimsical, funny, exciting, romantic... everything you could want from a film is here and Resnais directs it with the imagination, energy and vigor of a man half his age. The colour palette - alternatively soft and vibrant primary colours - is stunningly evocative, at times ethereal. The camerawork is fluid, invasive, stylish, secretive, observant and confusing - the camera placed at unusual angles, including a high angle shot of Georges entering the police station. The performances are terrific and the film is bursting at the seams with dazzling invention and playful eccentricity. It's a fairytale alright, but a (sur)realist one, a cineliterate one, and one brimming with an untold darkness.

So here's what I think it means. Resnais' has toyed with the ideas of memory and dreams before in Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) and Last Year At Marienbad (1961), which are both also about relationships - one is forbidden and one is ambiguous. The relationship in Wild Grass between Georges and Marguerite (Sabine Azéma) is both of these things. They meet through a seemingly random incident - Marguerite has her handbag stolen and Georges finds the wallet from inside it. Both of these sequences are quite surreal. One shot focuses on the yellow handbag flying through the air in slow motion, a soft, radiant light illuminating it as if this were a dream. Georges finds the wallet (red) in a car park and when two women walk past, the narrator tells us of how he thinks of strangling them for bad taste. "Thinking about that again?" his interior monologue goes. Georges is clearly a dreamer - he begins to obsess over Marguerite, sending her endless letters and phone calls, until one day he goes too far and slashes her tyres. Or does he? Perhaps he's just a sick fantasist. He also obsesses over the fact that the police will recognise him - perhaps catch him for a previous crime. When they come to his house to question about the tyres he's panicked. But the police don't blink an eye. Or do they? The significance of Bernard's sudden recognition is unknown. Maybe I even imagined it. The film certainly never touches on it again. In fact, the police never make another appearance. Marguerite and Georges begin to meet, at first outside the cinema at a screening of The Bridges At Toko-ri (Mark Robson, 1954) and a casual, non-sexual affair begins to emerge. At this point the film takes a strange turn as Marguerite begins to obsess over Georges and starts phoning his home. Perhaps this is all part of Georges' imagination? Perhaps in his mind she is madly in love with him (when they meet face-to-face for the first time Georges says "so you do love me?") and is stalking him. Perhaps that's what he wants. Marguerite's best friend, Josepha (Emmanuelle Devos) is suspicious of both their activity and accompanies Marguerite, Georges and his wife Suzanne (Anne Consigny) to the airfield (Marguerite is a pilot). This is where the three-way ending comes into play, and I'm not sure that they are meant to follow each other in a narrative sense, but are rather three possible outcomes to whichever plot you have been following - dream, fantasy or surrealist reality. The loving embrace seems to make the most sense but is far too simple a conclusion for Resnais. More than a film, Wild Grass is like a box of magic tricks, all competing to tell the same story. The second ending would also make some kind of sense were it not followed by the dark, actually quite scary surreal trip through a forrest, graveyard and rocky mountain. What does that mean? The music (Mark Snow) is eerie and operatic, like the beginning of a crescendo from a horror movie. And then there's the final ending. Who is the woman at the chair? It's possibly Josepha. The camera swoops past her so fast it's impossible to tell and this is, of course, exactly the point. The girls line, "When I'm a cat, will I be able to eat cat munchies?" is a nod towards the idea of reincarnation. Would it be too much to think of her as the deceased from the plane accident, if such an event happened? Or is it just another rabbit out of a hat? I don't know. But I do know that Resnais has crafted one of his finest films and at 88 shows no signs of stopping...

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