YOU AIN’T SEEN NOTHIN’ YET (Vous n'avez encore rien vu) C
France Germany (115 mi) 2012 ‘Scope d: Alain Resnais
France Germany (115 mi) 2012 ‘Scope d: Alain Resnais
This is another of a recent series of aging filmmakers to express themselves through sheer artificiality, much like Manoel de Oliveira, 100-years old and still counting, and the recently deceased Raúl Ruiz, whose immersion into literary source material often leaves their films rigid and lifeless onscreen, so stark in execution that the viewer ends up spending a majority of time simply reading the subtitles, as these are films with non-stop verbiage, almost as if the filmmakers preferred stories that were read to the audience. While the last film of Resnais, Wild Grass (Les Herbes Folles) (2009), couldn’t have been more playfully energetic with its quirky story of near forgotten moments leading to a budding romance, intoxicating with its impressionistic blur of neon-lit colors, where it obviously had plenty of whimsical fun with its own conceptual design. Not so here, where you’ll be hard pressed to find any ounce of spontaneity or flair for life in this film, a re-enactment of French playwright Jean Anouilh's 1941 play Eurydice, where the story of Orpheus and Eurydice has previously been told quite impressively in Jean Cocteau’s magical surrealist film ORPHEUS (1950) and the spectacularly colorful BLACK ORPHEUS (1959), a Marcel Camus film that uses the lush backdrop of Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival, featuring the exotic delights of fabulous costumes, nonstop dancing, and wall to wall samba music. While the play itself was written during the Nazi occupation of France, this historical context is completely left out of the film, though one can infer this may have been the reason it lingered for so long in the director’s imagination.
In the opening interlude expressed in a montage of split screen images, a varied group of actors receive identical phone calls informing them that Antoine d’Anthac (Denis Podalydès), a friend and beloved theater director has died, requesting their visit to his country estate for the reading of his will. Once the guests arrive, all gracefully met by Marcellin (Andrzej Seweryn), they are treated to a video performance of the Jean Anouilh play, where as the actors recall their own performances, Resnais blends a mixture of theater, memory, and real life into his own film. While it sounds clever enough, what it amounts to is largely a filmed theatrical piece, using three different sets of performers, where Resnais interjects onto the screen two sets of older actors watching the movie who recall performing the play in their youth, where they are suddenly projected onscreen as the featured players alongside a video version of younger performers from La Compagnie de la Colombe which was actually filmed by Denis Podalydès. With a brief break between the first and second acts where all the assembled players light up and smoke, Resnais simply films the entire play, intercutting brief elements of another more modern Anouilh play, Cher Antoine ou l'amour rate from 1969. So while there is some interest in how the concept initially develops, there are no more surprises, and despite some of the best French stage and screen performers, there is little interest in the play itself, as it exists in a cautious, overly refined, and artificialized setting that accentuates the literary aspect of the play, adding little visual enhancement.
While there is some pleasure in watching great actors, with Sabine Azema and Anne Consigny as Eurydice, matched by a young and vivacious Vimala Pons, from Jacques Rivette’s final film AROUND A SMALL MOUNTAIN (2009), and Pierre Arditi and Lambert Wilson as Orpheus, it must be said that the team of Azema and Arditi badly overact, adding a neurotic element that goes way over the top, turning this into an antiquated melodrama. Rivette is probably the most brilliant director incorporating theatrical performances into his films, but he also infuses his characters with intelligence and a probing curiosity, where one can’t help but take interest in the energizing aspect of their appeal, as they are literally teeming with life. But Resnais has made a film that only grows deadly boring after awhile, where the energy of the young and relatively unknown company actors consistently outshine the cadre of stars who never bring this piece to life, as it instead sits there onscreen like a stuffed shirt overly pleased with itself. Never invoking the dramatic power and tragedy behind the immortal play, where the all consuming power of love offers Orpheus a chance to bring Eurydice back from the dead, which initially comes from Greek mythology, revisited in various artistic forms for literally thousands of years, from Plato, Virgil, and Ovid to painters like Titian and Puissin, as well as music from Monteverdi, Gluck, and Offenbach, this can only be considered a minor version of a master work, a pale comparison to the legendary Cocteau film, the second of his Orphic Trilogy Films, which notably does make historical reference to the buildings in ruin after World War II, using them as the eerie setting for his underworld, where the Orpheus trial was made to resemble the German inquests after the occupation. While this was touted on the festival circuit as the swansong for Resnais, whose first film short was made back in the 30’s and first feature followed the war, there is yet another film already in post production, another collaboration with English playwright Alan Ayckbourn, his fourth film adaptation, where it will continue this obsession of aging film directors with literary works.