Film

'Wild Grass' Gets Lost in the Weeds

It's like watching David Lynch's understudy try to forge a reasonable whodunit out of some pretty Parisian locations. Even worse, Resnais is providing no answers and claiming no responsibility for his incompleteness.


Wild Grass

Director: Alain Resnais
Cast: Sabine Azéma, André Dussollier, Anne Consigny, Emmanuelle Devos
Rated: PG
Studio: Sony Classics
Year: 2009
US date: 2010-06-25 (Limited release)
Website
Trailer

The career of 88 year old Alain Resnais is one of arthouse celebration and commercial anonymity, especially in America. While critics have clamored for classics like Night and Fog (1955) Hiroshima mon amour (1959) and Last Year at Marienbad (1961) as prime examples of the French New Wave, he's had little limelight impact through the '80s and '90s. Now, it was is arguable the twilight of his creative years, and resting, relatively speaking, on his laurels, he offers Wild Grass, based on a novel by Christian Gailly. It centers around a mysterious older man, his doting younger wife, and a matronly dentist destined to become the third vertices in this unusual lover's triangle. Set up like a mystery, played out like a stylized romantic comedy, and peppered with other genre-specific dynamics along the way, Resnais is clearly having fun with his late in life choices. Sadly, the audience will feel very little of his obvious artistic joy.

When dour DDS Marguerite Muir has her purse stolen, it's just another bit of bad luck in a life filled with failed ambitions and broken dreams. When "retired" businessman Georges Palet stumbles across her billfold, he is immediately smitten by what he finds - an intriguing passport photo, a current pilot's license. He soon becomes obsessed with Marguerite, calling her with unusual demands and stalker-like seriousness. When she reports the problem to her local policeman Bernard de Bordeaux, he promises to get to the bottom of the trouble. Suddenly, Georges goes from serious threat to the subject of Marguerite's own incurable prying. Her passion for a man she barely knows drives a wedge in his marriage, as well as her relationship with an office co-worker. Eventually, Georges and Marguerite realize they need to be together, their family and friendship obligations be damned.

When viewed through the prism of a life spent in service of cinema, Wild Grass looks like a real renaissance - of sorts. It's all movie mannerisms and tweaked celluloid conventions. With a voice over narrator explaining the buoyant backstory and subtextual emotions of the characters and a plot that meanders around from insinuation to confused clarity, it's clear that Resnais has lost none of his mid 20th century verve. The problem is, none of what he has to offer resonates in 2010. When Quentin Tarantino can riff on such hyperbolic strokes in a single shot, when a wealth of wannabe auteurs beg, borrow, and steal from every historic source to realize their mash-up visions, Wild Grass's "wildness" is tame in comparison. It's like watching David Lynch's understudy try to forge a reasonable whodunit out of some pretty Parisian locations. Even worse, Resnais is providing no answers and claiming no responsibility for his incompleteness.

The problems begin right off the bat. Marguerite is an enigma, a high strung professional that few would want drilling into their incisors. She's weird, her mop of red hair supposedly a sign of eccentricity when insanity would be a much more viable rationale. When she learns of Georges, her emotional mood swings are so violent you can feel the cinematic whiplash from the back row of the movie house. While this is her ninth appearance in a Resnais film, actress Sabine Azéma is awkwardly uncorked here. We can never follow Marguerite's train of thought as she bounces from one implausible position to another. As the policeman forced to put up with much of her mania, Mathieu Amalric looks equally lost. He's supposed to be sympathetic and supportive. Instead, he comes across as a reluctant accomplice in a project he no longer has confidence in.

As Georges, André Dussollier is an even bigger problem. All throughout the first half of the film, Resnais suggests a scandalous, criminal history. We hear the character thinking about his previous punishment, about a possible stint in jail, the inappropriateness of his actions, the warnings to...and then nothing. No clarification or attempt to fill in the blank. As he grows violent, then sexual, then seductive, than silly, we marvel at how unlikeable he is. There is a specific moment when confronted by the police where you think Resnais is going to give it all away, when he will reluctantly let Georges spit out the truth and take the film in a rational, realistic direction. Instead, all we get is more whimsy, more worldview veiled through a filter of hot primary colors and carefully composed frames of celluloid.

If geeks can be accused of loving otherwise lame movies, Wild Grass is pure critic kryptonite. You can actually hear the heavy thinkers in the journalistic brotherhood going out of their way to heap praise on Resnais' latest release. But this is not a masterpiece. It's a folly, never fully realized and reeking of the arrogance that came after the French reinvented the artform 60 years ago. Wild Grass is so confrontational, so obvious in its preplanned impracticality that you just know that someone, somewhere, is basing their entire motion picture aesthetic around it. Honestly, there is nothing wrong with praising this film as being something noteworthy and far outside the mainstream. But it's also correct to call out an aging emperor when he struts around the screen without a significant stitch on.

As it toddles along, as Georges goes from real threat to misunderstood Romeo and Marguerite steadily slips into all out quirk, the 88-year-old icon behind the lens manipulates and maneuvers our expectations. Unfortunately, we don't really care how it all turns out. Nothing about the two leads -- or their effect on others -- makes us hope for their union or desperate for their destruction. As Georges family unravels and then reestablishes, as Marguerite rediscovers her love of flying, Wild Grass goes from idiosyncratic to irritating. Of course, the collective groan from the mainstream moviegoer will be drowned out by those who want to celebrate Alain Resnais. Too bad they can't simply recommend a revisit to his previous triumphs. Recommending Wild Grass would be like suggesting that William Friedkin did his best work with 1990's The Guardian. It might represent a legend proving his position, but that doesn't make it engaging or entertaining.

4
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Music

Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.