Saturday, January 1, 2011

Wild Grass

At one point in Alain Resnais’ Wild Grass, we’re told, “After the cinema, anything is possible.” In a different time and place, this might have been a manifesto. Here, it’s an epitaph. The old master uses contrivance and absurdity in an attempt to create a sense of endless possibility, a technique that would be far more effective if the contrivances were genuinely startling and the absurdity truly funny. No such luck—it’s all snatched purses and oops-your-fly-is-down jokes, little worthy of a man of Resnais’ experience (he was 87 when the film was released). For a farce, this is a rather joyless affair. I would have dared to laugh a few times, except that it seemed somehow inappropriate. It would have been a shame to shatter the solemn mood with something resembling human pleasure, after all.

The film charts the unlikely twists of fate that bring together Georges (an irritable husband and father hunting for a mid-life crisis) and Marguerite (clumsy dentist and weekend pilot, god help us). But it’s less concerned with exploring the emotions of its characters than it is with reveling in its own cinephilia. Movie-geek jokes abound—the two mad lovers embrace in a kiss that signals a traditional Hollywood ending, even though the film isn’t quite done forcing half-baked frivolity down our throats just yet—and the whole thing is a masterful formal exercise, to be sure. Resnais’ camera is as god-like as ever, swooping down from above the mess and at least creating the illusion that a guiding intelligence presides over the film. Unfortunately, Resnais shows more sureness with cinematic passions than human ones—the narrator’s plot summary of The Bridges at Toko-Ri bursts with unexpected ardor, while the relationship between Georges and Marguerite, by comparison, remains a theoretical affair.

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