Wild Grass
aka Les herbes folles
First screened and reviewed in July 2010 / Click Here to Comment
Director: Alain Resnais. Cast: André Dussolier, Sabine Azéma, Anne Consigny, Emmanuelle Devos, Mathieu Amalric, Michel Vuillermoz, Annie Cordy, Sara Forestier, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Vladimir Consigny, Roger-Pierre, Dominique Rozan, voice of Edouard Baer. Screenplay: Alex Reval and Laurent Herbiet (based on the novel L'Incident by Christian Gailly).

Twitter Capsule: Sinuous, light, a bit soporific. Dazzling hues but all a bit dubious. Is there such a thing as couture costume jewelry?

VOR:   Uncommon originality and spryness for such an advanced auteur, even if it's pure-form spryness without much content. Risks and surprises in a fairly steady stream.

Photo © 2009 Studio Canal/France 2 Cinéma,
© 2010 Sony Pictures Classics
Camera movements, graphic matches, and strange tonal balances carry a lot of expressive weight in this story about chance encounters, creepy follow-ups, and abrupt changes of heart. Resnais generates some memorably comic non sequiturs, and it's always thrilling to watch a movie where the next shot could be of almost anything, not because the director is careless but because he is working out of a multifaceted imagination that perceives connections where most of us wouldn't. Just the sight of yellow purses flying through the air or tufts of green grass poking like fingers through cracked pavement takes on emotional resonance. Meanwhile, the undercurrents of mental illness, even homicidal agitation in Dussollier's character keep the more clownish hues and the cutesy conception of the Azéma character from floating away into total preciousness. Not the most integrated experience, and by the final, largely airborne act, my patience had been rather exhausted. Taking pity on your stalker-aggressor if not outright falling in love with him is a difficult narrative conceit to pull off, even in hands as accomplished as Resnais's. Welcome fixtures of modern French cinema such as Emmanuelle Devos and Mathieu Amalric show up eager to play with the aging master, even if their second-tier roles are less than fully compelling. Wild Grass disappoints by not amounting to more than it does, but still, it's patently made by people who know what they're doing, and there's nothing else like it out there, at least not right now.

That very sense of playing by its own rules, of toying with a cheerfully incongruous if rather silly ending, of using something as simple as colored fluorescent bulbs to change the emotional cast of a crucial location within the film: the current cinema needs more of all this. What Wild Grass lacks in narrative coherence or psychological insight, it fairly well compensates as a tour guide of ways in which established pros can, with both winsomeness and cruelty, conspire to shape a scene in unexpected ways. I say "masters" in the plural because Wild Grass interests me, too, as a loosey-goosey sketchbook by cinematographer Eric Gautier, not just as a gambit of Resnais's. Gautier, one of the world's most important directors of photography, is better known for bending natural light in ways either classically elegant (Summer Hours), romantically rough (The Motorcycle Diaries, Into the Wild, the upcoming On the Road) or eccentrically outsized (in his work with Leos Carax and Arnaud Desplechin). Though he has worked with Resnais once before in the auteur's pop-brite late period, Wild Grass's world of color-blocked neons generally marks a major change in routine for Gautier. Not surprisingly, he's got tricks up his sleeve worth coming to see. I'm sure someone will write an article to explain how ingenious Wild Grass is, and I may or may not believe them. Still, the movie defies expectations whether or not you have a strong sense of who worked on it. Defiantly weird surprises can often teach you more than proficient fulfillments of familiar recipes. Similarly, secondary but worthy entrants in legendary careers can teach you at least as much as the young tyros of any given moment. Grade: B

Cannes Film Festival: Special Jury Prize

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