Love among the weeds

Wild Grass, ro­man­tic com­edy, not rated, in French with sub­ti­tles, CCA Cine­math­eque, 3.5 chiles

Pasatiempo - - Moving Images - Jonathan Richards

At 88, Alain Res­nais is young enough to have fun and old enough to en­joy fun’s dark side.

Res­nais, un­like most of his com­rades in the French New Wave, was al­ready a vet­eran filmmaker when that cin­e­matic revo­lu­tion boiled up out of Paris a half cen­tury ago. He was 37, with more than 20 years of movie-mak­ing un­der his belt when he filmed the haunt­ing Hiroshima, mon amour (1959), and then fol­lowed it with clas­sics like Last Year at Marien­bad (1961) and La guerre est finie (1966). His rap sheet runs to al­most 50 movies over more than seven decades.

The movies men­tioned above don’t con­jure up a sense of play­ful­ness; how­ever, the di­rec­tor’s more re­cent out­put has run more to the whim­si­cal with fea­tures like Smok­ing/No Smok­ing (1993) and Pri­vate Fears in Pub­lic Places (2006), both adapted from come­dies by Bri­tish play­wright Alan Ay­ck­bourn. Wild Grass is al­ter­nately funny, bizarre, dis­con­nected, omi­nous, vi­brant, and dan­ger­ous.

Res­nais be­gins with long introductions to his two prin­ci­pals, Mar­guerite (Sabine Azéma) and Ge­orges (An­dré Dus­sol­lier), whom we fol­low, with­out see­ing their faces, while a nar­ra­tor (Edouard Baer) sketches in some back­ground. Mar­guerite is a strik­ing-look­ing mid­dle-aged woman with a shock of frizzy flam­ing hair that re­sem­bles a chia pet with wild red grass and a wide-eyed look of per­pet­ual

as­ton­ish­ment. She’s a den­tist, a pi­lot, a shoe fetishist, and a lonely sin­gle woman who may be on the look­out for love from ei­ther side of the gen­der aisle. There is the vague sug­ges­tion of in­ti­macy with her best friend Josépha (Em­manuelle Devos), a den­tist with whom she shares of­fice space. As the film opens, Mar­guerite goes shop­ping for a pair of shoes, be­cause she likes the touch of a par­tic­u­lar sales­girl. As she leaves the store, her purse is snatched. “A com­mon­place in­ci­dent,” the nar­ra­tor ob­serves, and one that sets the story in mo­tion.

Her dis­carded wal­let is found in an un­der­ground park­ing garage by Ge­orges. As he ex­am­ines its con­tents, a cou­ple of tacky teenage girls walk by, and Ge­orges, re­flect­ing that “ev­ery­thing is ex­cus­able ex­cept bad taste,” finds him­self ex­pe­ri­enc­ing and quickly re­press­ing what seems to be an im­pulse to vi­o­lence. There is some­thing sin­is­ter in Ge­orges’ past to which we are never privy. Is it a sex crime? Did he do time? Is it all in his head?

This no­tion of un­re­li­a­bil­ity re­ver­ber­ates through the movie. Res­nais will not be pinned down. It’s of­ten im­pos­si­ble to tell what’s real and what’s a fig­ment of the imag­i­na­tion. The film is nar­rated by sev­eral voices, the main nar­ra­tor buffered by in­te­rior mono­logues supplied by the prin­ci­pals, and none of them is what you would swear was de­pend­able. Ge­orges, for in­stance, sev­eral times vol­un­teers the in­for­ma­tion that he is about 50, the ac­cu­racy of which claim is be­lied by his griz­zled fea­tures.

Ge­orges is in­trigued by the pho­tos in the wal­let he has found, and even more by Mar­guerite’s pi­lot’s li­cense. He’s an avi­a­tion fan and finds him­self yearn­ing to meet this woman. Un­able to reach her on the phone, he fi­nally turns the wal­let over to the po­lice but con­tin­ues to be ob­sessed with her. Ge­orges, it must be said, has a lovely and ap­par­ently lov­ing wife (Anne Con­signy), but this does not seem to keep him from go­ing out most nights on the prowl.

The story, said to have been very freely adapted by Res­nais and screen­writ­ers Alex Ré­val and Lau­rent Her­biet from Chris­tian Gailly’s 1996 novel L’In­ci­dent, moves through a se­ries of stalk­ings, plot twists, po­lice in­ci­dents, and un­likely en­coun­ters as this bizarre love story un­folds on var­i­ous lev­els of cred­i­bil­ity. Some of it is Res­nais hav­ing fun with movie con­ven­tions, us­ing split-screen in­serts, and cin­e­matog­ra­pher Eric Gau­tier’s candy-hued pal­ette of col­ors, swoop­ing and leap­ing with ec­static pans and crane shots, drench­ing the whole thing in Mark Snow’s jazzy score. He even pro­vides us with a cou­ple of end­ings — a “Fin” on the screen over a Dou­glas Sirkian lovers’ em­brace is fol­lowed by an­other de­noue­ment. Res­nais, like his col­leagues in the New Wave, was in love with Hollywood movies be­fore that ro­mance soured. In Wild Grass, Ge­orges goes to see the Wil­liam Holden-Grace Kelly Korean War drama The Bridges at Toko-Ri, only to re­mark sadly upon leav­ing that it doesn’t seem as won­der­ful as it used to.

Res­nais works with some of his reg­u­lar ac­tors and gets de­li­cious per­for­mances out of them. Dus­sol­lier, in par­tic­u­lar, is ir­re­sistibly elu­sive as Ge­orges. Azéma is ap­peal­ing in an off-kil­ter, un­re­li­able sort of way. And there’s a hi­lar­i­ous dead­pan turn as a cop by Mathieu Amal­ric ( The Div­ing Bell and the But­ter­fly).

The wild grass of the ti­tle is the un­quench­able sort that pushes up through the cracks in city pave­ment, de­fy­ing the odds and the most in­hos­pitable of en­vi­ron­ments. Sym­bol­i­cally, it could re­fer to the un­likely ro­mance that flow­ers, or never quite flow­ers, be­tween the mid­dle-aged prin­ci­pals. It could also be ex­tended to Res­nais, who keeps sprout­ing mar­velous artis­tic herbage at an age when most of his con­tem­po­raries are push­ing up grass from a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive. At last year’s Cannes Fes­ti­val, the old war horse got a life­time achieve­ment award, pos­si­bly be­cause the or­ga­niz­ers couldn’t fig­ure out what to make of him.

This movie packs a wal­let: Mathieu Amal­ric, left, and An­dré Dus­sol­lier

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