WILD GRASS (Les Herbes Folles) B+
France Italy (104 mi) 2009 d: Alain Resnais
France Italy (104 mi) 2009 d: Alain Resnais
No matter, we shall have loved each other well. —Gustave Flaubert, L'Éducation sentimentale, 1869
A surprisingly light-hearted French comedy from the master of the nearly incomprehensible Last Year at Marienbad (L'Année Dernière à Marienbad) (1961), a bold existential reverie told with a striking geometric visual scheme filled with perfectly dressed characters looking like mannequins who exist in a purgatory of forgotten memories that are about to disappear forever. This film makes use of small, somewhat quirky overlooked moments that might easily be forgotten, yet they’re given a synchronous narrative structure where they become the highlights of the film, quite reminiscent of Wong Kar-wai’s charmingly upbeat use of the same sort of romantic structure in CHUNGKING EXPRESS (1994), where this film even looks like it was shot by Wong’s cinematographer Christopher Doyle, but it is Eric Gautier who provides a stunningly beautiful color palette that is so brightly lit, an impressionistic blur of neon-lit colors, that at times it takes one’s breath away. Since the narrative itself is minimal, a woman’s purse gets stolen and the man who finds her wallet is struck by the myriad of possibilities with the thought of returning it to her, which leaves plenty of room for character driven improvisation, something the French excel at. A comedic battle of the sexes ensues. The woman who loses her purse is the director’s live-in companion, Sabine Azéma, a flaming red-head some 27-years his junior, while the man who discovers the missing wallet is André Dussollier, who is the picture of manners, convention, and social grace. There seems to be a story within the story about his real profession that’s barely referenced, only alluded to, and then swallowed up by an entirely new train of thought, leaving all those possibilities behind in exchange for brand new ones. Through a whimsical narration that also includes people’s heads and thoughts popping up like an animated comic strip, this film has fun with its own conceptual design, as despite the occasional hilarity, the sequence of events are extremely well edited and there is a remarkable display of wit. For many this will be a bizarre little headscratcher bathed in the luminescent light of a budding love story that feels innocent and warmhearted enough, becoming a master class on cinema itself, but makes little sense.
While Dussollier wishes to make a personal impression after he returns the wallet, he ends up talking to Azéma’s answering machine every night, leaving revealing messages where he expresses an interest in meeting, but when they finally talk, she tries to put an end to that idea. So he starts writing her letters instead, including one that appears to be about 10 pages long, revealing his life’s story and his various thoughts of the day, as if she were his best friend. This all gets a bit tricky, but he’s consumed by her while she deflects his interest, though it’s clear he’s made some sort of impression, as she’s clearly enamored by his attention and misses it when she puts a stop to it. So she turns the tables and starts secretly following him, where the moment they meet is electric, like something out of pure fantasy, yet there it is happening before our eyes. She begins calling his home, where his wife (Anne Consigny) calmly answers as if this is nothing out of the ordinary, where they all seemingly become best of friends, yet the underlying motivations shift around and remain unclear. The pursuer becomes fascinated by the unknown, never knowing quite what to expect, while the pursued seems to love the attention, even if they’re already married and the pursuer comes to sit in their living room. The audience doesn’t really know what to make of this either, as the married couple seems perfectly content and not at all jealous, apparently pleased with each other’s happiness, where the added interest only seems to brighten up their lives. No one knows where any of this is going or where it will lead. What’s truly remarkable is the ease with which these veteran actors sink their teeth into their parts, as they’re a joy to watch simply to discover what they’ll do next, becoming instantly familiar characters, cleverly drawn and skillfully inhabited, with a series of movie references, including familiar movie music and title cards appearing on the screen, including several endings. But mostly what works is the thought process that leads us through this bounty of oddball experiences, looking through the cracks of our well-ordered lives, as there’s a refined intelligence behind it all and an uplifting spirit that feels remarkable, as if we in the audience are missing out on the choices we make in our daily routines, continually overlooking these deliciously small moments that when maximized seem to define our humanity. It hardly matters if we make fools of ourselves, what people remember is the effort, which is the proof that when we lived, we cared.