In You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet at the New York Film Festival, the 90-year-old French film maker Alain Resnais asks “Will I leave behind something of significance and relevance when I die?”
With screenwriters Laurent Herbiet and Alex Reval, Resnais adapted Jean Anouihl’s 1969 play Dear Antoine and 1941 play Eurydice, creating a film that contemplates the relationships of theatre, film and life, with the passing of time.
The “staging” has friends gathered at the large country mansion of celebrated director, Antoine d’Anthac (Denis Podalydès). His dignified butler Marcellin (Andrzej Seweryn) telephoned each of them to explain that their dear friend died in a terrible accident but had requested the reunion. The guests, an A-list of some of France’s most well established actors, play themselves (Sabine Azéma, who in life is married to Resnais, Anne Consigny, Anny Duperey, Mathieu Amalric, Pierre Arditi, Hippolyte Girardot, Michel Piccoli and Lambert Wilson). In the film, they have all worked with d’Anthac in the past. Similarly, most of the actors in true life had previously worked with Resnais.
From beyond the grave, in a pre-recorded videotape, d’Anthac requests that they watch a video of a young, theatrical troupe’s production of Eurydice. He asks is the play still meaningful and relevant? Should it be produced? Bruno Podalydès directed this movie within the movie of a play staged in an industrial warehouse. In the NYFF press notes, in an excerpted interview with François Thomas, Resnais emphasized the theme of reunions: the ones portrayed in the film, those in the reality of making the film, and that of Orpheus and Eurydice, upon her return from the Underworld.
“During the screening, Antoine’s friends are so overwhelmed by their memories of the play that they start performing it together, despite no longer being the appropriate ages for the various roles,” said Resnais.
Including the video, three pairs of Orpheus and Eurydice in different stages of life, along with the play’s full cast, intercut and splice together Resnais’ film, as if edited in real time.
The film can seem a bit self-indulgently cozy for those not in a theatre or film family and is a bit choppy and fragmented in its patchwork re-enactments of Eurydice. However, it showcases elegant acting. More significantly, it succeeds in reviving interest in Anouilh’s beautiful play, underscoring the timelessness of theatrical drama extending back to the Ancient Greeks. In mythology, the musician Orpheus can bring back from the dead his beloved Eurydice, but only if he does not turn around and look at her face. In Anouilh’s modern interpretation, jealousy drives Orpheus to lose her.
Eurydice churns the complexities and unbearable loneliness of being with other people: parents and adult children, lovers with their pasts, and people who pass in and out of each other’s lives. As Eurydice quizzically says in her sleep, “It is difficult.”
Vincent, the lover of Eurydice’s mother, and Orpheus’s father offer simple explanations of love and life. Vincent says, “But we love. And when we are on the edge of the grave, we turn round to look back and say: ‘I have often suffered, sometimes made mistakes, but I have loved. It is I who have lived, not some artificial being created by my pride and my despair.'”
Monsieur Henri, (Mathieu Amalric and in the video, Jean-Christophe Folly) a creepy messenger from the Underworld, describes to Orpheus how people search for eternal love from a first kiss, with fright knowing it cannot last. He suggests that in searching for everlasting love on Earth, we desperately try to defy fate, our inevitable finite existences of human life. Eurydice’s clinging, irrational fear of losing Orpheus’s love suggests a terror of loneliness, rooted in the fear of death as the ultimate experience of being alone.
Monsieur Henri reasons against the human fear of death, a denial of fate.
Monsieur Henri: (quietly) No one ever suffers when they die. Death never hurts. Death is gentle … What makes you suffer with certain poisons, certain clumsy wounds, is life. What’s left of life. You must trust death completely, like a friend, a friend with a hand that’s delicate and strong.
Resnais plays with the idea of death — d’Anthac’s and Eurydice’s and thus, his own. The director of Night and Fog (1955), Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) and Muriel (1963) asks the audience the same questions asked of the actors.
Yes, Mr. Resnais, Eurydice and your film have meaning. Yes, theatre and film intelligently probing shared, universal questions remain relevant. And yes, as long as the ultimate mystery of human existence remains unanswered, the works of Antoine d’Anthac, Jean Anouihl and Alain Resnais will matter.