At the end of Alain Resnais’ Wild Grass (Les herbes folles), a child asks, “Mummy, when I’m a cat, will I be able to eat cat munchies?” In another, as yet unimagined movie, it might have been whimsical. Here, it’s just weird, and not a little infuriating, considering the nonsense that precedes it. It’s true the New Wave director is working with weak material—based on Christian Gailly’s novel, L’incident, and adapted by first-time scripter Alex Reval—but at 88, Resnais might be more careful in selecting his projects.
Wild Grass has no clue what kind of movie it wants to be. Ostensibly a fanciful romance, the plot centers on a woman who had her purse stolen and the man who finds her wallet. Margeurite (Sabine Azema) is a flame-haired, dipshit dentist and amateur pilot, prone to designer-shoe-buying sprees and hurting her patients when she’s lost in thought. Georges (Andre Dussollier) is a middle-aged nut-job, psychoanalyzing her by the photos he finds in her wallet.
After Georges leaves the wallet (and his contact info) with the police, Margeurite rings him up to thank him. But isn’t enough for Georges, who won’t let her stop with a short, polite phone conversation. “You disappoint me,” he says bitterly when she doesn’t want to meet. She can’t know how strange he is, but we have an idea: earlier, on seeing some scantily clad young women in a parking garage, he’s attracted but then angry, thinking in voiceover, “You know what it cost you in the past.” He gets rattled at the police station because he’s worried someone will recognize him.
Despite Margeurite’s apparently better instincts, she’s unable to put Georges off. He writes her letters and then slashes her tires when she asks him to stop. Yet eventually—and suddenly—she’s obsessed with him, too.
These are not likable characters, or even ones who seem to have regular contact with planet Earth. Other details that don’t sit right are Georges’ ridiculously patient wife, Suzanne (Anne Consigny), to whom he’s been married for 30 years, and Margeurite’s best friend, Josepha (Emmanuelle Devos), who seems the voice of reason until she starts doing weird shit herself. It seems no woman can resist Georges, no matter how dangerous she believes him to be.
This may have to do with Georges’ narration—the film is his version of events, accompanied by a frequently obtrusively loud jazz score. Sporadically, his view turns omniscient and is accompanied by scenes of him writing, suggesting the situation is his fiction, but you never find out for sure.
Wild Grass is not a pleasant experience. Never mind that the star-crossed-lovers path is thoroughly unbelievable. Georges comes off as a psycho and Margeurite a shell, neither convincingly motivated. It’s difficult, therefore, to judge the performances. Is Azema’s Margeurite supposed to be so irritatingly flaky and barely seem a competent doctor, much less a pilot? And is Georges meant to be unreadable, swinging from mood to mood, from virtually one line to the next? His inconsistency becomes the film’s: the story goes from cutesy and disturbing to straight-up Dada, including that final query about cat kibble and a sudden bit of wackiness involving Georges’ open zipper. It hardly matters how they connect.