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With: André Dussollier, Sabine Azéma, Emmanuelle Devos, Mathieu Amalric, Anne Consigny, Michel Vuillermoz, Annie Cordy, Sara Forestier, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Vladimir Consigny, Dominique Rozan, Jean-Noël Brouté, Edouard Baer (narrator)
Written by: Alex Reval, Laurent Herbiet, based on a novel by Christian Gailly
Directed by: Alain Resnais
MPAA Rating: PG for some thematic material, language and brief smoking
Language: French, with English subtitles
Running Time: 104
Date: 05/20/2009

Wild Grass (2010)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Flying Blind

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The 88 year-old French filmmaker Alain Resnais has returned to cinemas with his latest film Wild Grass. It's a fascinating, and baffling movie. In some scenes it moves like a thriller, suggesting simmering violence that will erupt later, spiced with a few dashes of obsession. In other scenes, it plays like a goofy comedy (as when a man's zipper gets stuck just before a crucial moment). And in still other scenes, it deliberately goes off the track and becomes all of these things, and none of them.

A redheaded woman, Marguerite Muir (Sabine Azéma) -- who works as a dentist and flies planes in her spare time -- has her purse stolen. A fifty-something man, Georges Palet (André Dussollier), finds it. The movie hints that Georges may have some kind of violent past or some unchecked unsavory tendencies, but never really uses these hints for anything other than establishing tension. Likewise Resnais keeps from showing Marguerite's face for a good, long while, for no reason other than to further establish a weird mood.

In any case, Georges -- who is married -- expects to make some kind of connection with Marguerite, though she does not feel the same way. He goes a bit overboard in his attempts, until finally he gives up, but then she re-establishes contact with him. They never seem to connect on any equal or truthful way, except in the movie's final stretch when Marguerite invites Georges and his wife (Anne Consigny) flying. And even then, Resnais throws in a bizarre twist, and then leaves his heroes completely to end the movie on two completely new, unrelated characters.

Familiar faces Emmanuelle Devos and Mathieu Amalric turn up in small weird roles. Plus, if you want to hear something really strange, composer Mark Snow ("The X-Files") contributed the score!

If Wild Grass had been the work of an amateur, it would have been criticized for its uneven storytelling, which basically breaks all the rules of standard screenplays. Many would complain about the various setups with lack of payoffs, for example. But Resnais is a master, and so we assume he knows what he's doing, and the new film has received mostly ecstatic reviews. I'd like to think that he has made something here along the lines of his 1961 puzzler Last Year at Marienbad (1961), which was set at a hotel getaway for the well-to-do. It deliberately avoids any single point of view, and indeed could actually be taking place anywhere during the past, present or future.

Unfortunately, the new movie also reminded me of Resnais' English-language disaster I Want to Go Home (1989). Telling the story of a celebrated comic book artist who travels to Paris for a tribute and tries to reconnect with his estranged daughter, it was highly-pitched and obnoxious, a terrible attempt at comedy. I'm not sure Resnais is deliberately trying to make us laugh with this new one, or at least not in an immediate way. I think perhaps he intends for us to laugh later, as we're running over the whole thing in our heads. It's a puzzle, but more light-hearted than Last Year at Marienbad, and it's a comedy, but not as obnoxious as I Want to Go Home.

I think it's something quite new, which will put off a lot of filmgoers. But I think it can be easily summed up by a line from the movie: "After the cinema, nothing surprises you."

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