Opens Fri., July 9
Most great directors spend their autumn years quietly crafting complex but relaxed “masterworks” that belie the wisdom—and, in some cases, sluggish technical chops—of their many years. Not Alain Resnais. The French titan stormed the ‘60s art film scene with modernist mindfucks like Hiroshima, Mon Amour and Last Year at Marienbad. Over the last two decades, he’s settled into a groove of deceptively deep trifles like Same Old Song and Not On the Lips. Wild Grass, however, is pure whatzit. Hopefully not the 88-year-old director’s last film, it marries the assured control of a master filmmaker with the restlessness of someone unwilling to go gently into that good night.
Resnais regular Andre Dussollier plays a middle-aged man, apparently unemployed, who finds the stolen wallet of a big-haired dentist (Sabine Azema). Drawn to her photo, he tries to make a connection. She’s uninterested. Stalking ensues—until Dussollier abruptly loses interest in Azema and she, also abruptly, begins stalking him. Dussollier starts putting the moves on Azema’s friend (Emmanuelle Devos). And then things get weird.
On one level, you have an old coot mucking about. Like the director's previous Private Fears in Public Places, the colors are bizarre—oddball shades of blue and green. There’s little attempt at psychological continuity, with characters pulling behaviorial 180s and the actors left looking amusingly confused. And the finale hinges on someone’s inability to zip their fly.
However jokily, Resnais is ruminating on pet themes. Like John Gielgud’s boozy author in Providence or Giogio Albertazzi’s would-be seducer in Marienbad, the narrator jostles the characters around in a constantly mutating narrative, giddily exposing the artificiality of storytelling. And though the tone is light, the film keeps hinting at dark, messed-up subtext: Just what is that mystery crime that Dussollier committed that would put him in jail should he be caught stalking?
Wild Grass is too strange to fully unpack on first viewing, though the deep melancholy—plus the brief 2001-esque conclusion—suggests a director mourning that this may be the last time he can ruthlessly fuck with both an audience and fictional characters.