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Wild Grass

Mathieu Amalric, Andre Dussollier, and Michel Vuillermoz talk it over in "Wild Grass"

The (obscure) object of his affection
Wild Grass

“Anything is possible after the movies,” says Georges (André Dussollier), the male protagonist in Alain Resnais’ Wild Grass. He’s just been at a showing of Mark Robson’s 1955 movie version of James Michener’s Korean War novel, The Bridges at Toko-Ri, fondly remembered from his boyhood. Actually, it’s been a disappointment, he admits. This is surely a common response among those who revisit old movies that endure as hallowed memories.

Is Resnais trying to tell us something about the movies of our life (to borrow an old tagline from a cable TV network)? Your guess is as good, or better, than mine, since I haven’t a clue. Resnais has punctuated his film in two or three places with cinematic references, but you’re going to have to struggle with just what their function is meant to be; neither Resnais nor I is going to give you much guidance, I fear. Wild Grass is full of discontinuities, apparent non-sequiturs and plot-direction changes. It does seem as if the famously super-serious Resnais has enjoyed himself assembling this playfully puzzling little movie, and I dare say there are those who will appreciatively experience the 87-year-old French director’s relish at what he’s wrought. Undoubtedly there will also be others who are rendered perplexed, and even irritated.

The woman to whom Georges mentions his visit to his movie past is Marguerite (Sabine Azéma), who has become the object of his disturbingly idiosyncratic infatuation, which began before he even met her. This obsession was incited by his discovery of Marguerite’s wallet in a parking garage, where it was abandoned by a purse snatcher. (Both the wallet and her hair are red, a fact made abundantly clear, and which you may or may not wish to ponder.) Georges is fascinated by the two very dissimilar ID photos inside, a disparity he points out to the quirkily friendly cop (Mathieu Amalric) at the station house where he goes to leave his find.

Marguerite hasn’t answered George’s telephone call, and she’s delayed reporting the theft (another unexplained behavior). Georges begins to pursue, even to stalk her, and, receiving no favorable response, he slashes her car tires to get her attention. All this unencouraged ardor and his withdrawal from the quest after a strangely friendly police warning eventually arouse her interest, but he spurns her diffident overture. Thus begins a fervently neurotic choreography of pursuit, rejection and role reversal. Meanwhile, Georges’ wife, Suzanne (Anne Consigny), treats this romantic charade with a matter-of-fact patience, even when it invades her home.

Some of this business has a certain oddball Gallic charm and humor. At one point, Amalric’s cop seems more interested in advising Georges about the merits of electric lawnmowers than the theft, and he has an understatedly warm, social worker persona. But too much of this film seems like a long private joke whose comprehension by the audience Resnais is willfully indifferent to.

Wild Grass seems motored by obvious incongruences and unintelligible motifs. In one interior monologue, Georges alludes to a possible criminal past, but this is soon dropped. He says he’s been married for 30 years, but Suzanne must have been about five years old when they wed. Dessolier is 65, but playing a man the cop describes as perhaps 50. Marguerite is an inept dentist but her admiring patients crowd her waiting room. And periodically, such action as there is is interrupted by lyrically disjunctive camera pans over a field of wind-blown grasses, and weeds growing out of cracked macadam.

The film is kind of low-modernist muddle, with an almost campy insouciance about character and narrative, consistency or accessibility. This is all a long distance from Resnais’ famous, coldly high-toned and solemn depictions of anomie and confused or tortured memories (Last Year in Marienbad, Hiroshima mon amour, etc.) This one has touches that are farcically arch.

Almost every minute of Wild Grass gives evidence of Resnais’ continued mastery of technique, whether it’s imagery, the use of color, or the editing rhythms. But it also has a smug, self-amused feel. Whether Resnais thinks he’s ironically portraying the psychopathology of mundane existences, the non-linear nature of individual and social realities, or even something else entirely, it’s certain he hasn’t deemed it important to let us in on the joke.

Watch the trailer for Wild Grass

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