Imagine a film, opening this summer, that’s visually hypnotic and follows dream logic. A filmmaker, widely proclaimed as a master early in his career, directs; and you have to see it more than once to unravel the mysterious plot and the entanglements between the rich ensemble of characters.
If you haven’t guessed already, I’m talking about Alain Resnais’ Wild Grass.
It might be more accurate to say that Inception is what many have called a great film about dreaming whereas Wild Grass is a film about a great dream someone might actually have.
While I consider myself a Resnais “fan,” I should point out that I hadn’t seen any of his films since the reputation-making works of the early ’60s: Hiroshima Mon Amour and Last Year at Marienbad. It turns out he remains as avant-garde as ever at age 88.
Here Georges Palet (André Dussollier) finds a wallet belonging to Marguerite Muir (Sabine Azéma with a red nimbus of hair that matches the general fuzziness of the film), discovers that she resembles a “’30s aviatrix” and begins to, for the lack of a better word, stalk her.
All this happens to the bemusement of his wife Suzanne (Anne Consigny, often wearing the chic French version of the Snuggie), the caring policeman Bernard (Mathieu Amalric) and Marguerite’s partner at a dental practice, Josepha (Emmanuelle Devos). (The latter three were last seen together in 2008’s A Christmas Tale, by WTT auteur préféré Arnaud Desplechin).
Read the full review after the jump.
In Wild Grass, time flops around like a trout on the riverbank, racing ahead, pausing and doubling back over itself. We meet Georges while he’s getting his stopped watch repaired, which coincides with the moment that Marguerite’s bag is stolen (a shot that repeats throughout the film, in slow motion).
Resnais uses fade outs between shots but often one frame will fade into another just like it but at a different time of day, making it hard to say whether Georges, for instance, has really been sitting at his desk writing for ten hours straight.
To add to the tumult, characters’ interior monologues and shared dialogues lap over each other, making it difficult at times to distinguish Georges’ thoughts from Suzanne or Bernard’s comments when they are speaking together. It’s lucky that the acting is so fine and expressive that the thrust of the scenes comes across even if you don’t catch all the subtitles.
Many unusual camera angles in the film are illogical at first blush — there are tracking shots so tight to character’s backs that you can’t see much around them and redundant 360 degree panoramas of scenery unimportant to the plot. But compared to Christopher Nolan’s minutely buttoned up imagery in Inception, Resnais gives us the pleasant feeling that some things are up for chance in his world.
The film peaks when Marguerite drives through diffuse pulses of green and yellow light to meet Georges as he exits a screening of The Bridge at Toko-Ri (in which William Holden is a Navy pilot shot down in Korea — not the happiest piece of foreshadowing for Marguerite and Georges’ inevitable plane ride).
Meeting her for the first time under the red incandescence of a Cinéma sign, Georges delivers one of the best deadpan lines you’ll ever hear: “You love me, then” (I wish some of Resnais’ humor would rub off on the mirthless Nolan). Georges is unconcerned with his provocations — as he explains earlier in the film, he’s “perpetually doing something not quite right,” like slashing Marguerite’s tires or walking around with his fly wide open.
This very odd couple rambles on apace as the director supplies a crazed mixture of 20th Century Fox’s opening drum roll and titles reading “Fin.”
The last disjointed moments of the film are like a dream you’re trying to finish while hitting the snooze button. No matter how many times the Wild Grass improbably persists, you wake up before the story is over.
Wild Grass is showing at Landmark Varsity Theatre, 4329 University Way NE