Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Wild Grass [Les herbes folles]

Alain Resnais | 2009 | 104 mins | France / Italy

When I was 16 years old, my father took me to the Ontario Cinematheque to watch Alain Resnais' L'année dernière à Marienbad. I was so frustrated and infuriated by this (probably the first 'art film' I ever saw) that I left the theatre thinking I had disliked it. When, a month later, I hadn't stopped thinking about the film for a single day since that fateful screening, I realised the truth: L'année dernière à Marienbad had opened me up to the possibilities of cinema and changed the course of my life forever.

The opportunity to see Resnais' latest film (I admit that I was shocked to learn the 86 year old was still directing) on the big screen in Cannes was the opportunity of a lifetime, but I couldn't have prepared myself for how emotional the experience would be. The moment Resnais' walked into the 2,300 seat Lumière theatre, the fact that I was in the same room with him hit me pretty hard. I cried for ten minutes before the opening credits even rolled.

The film itself was quite charming - not a masterpiece, but it stands up to some of the more serious fare in competition this year. It starts with a woman (Sabine Azéma) who we are told by the surprisingly charming and funny narrator has unusual feet, which force her to shop for shoes in very specific places, which on this particular day resulted in her purse being stolen as she exited the shoe shop with a brand new pair of pumps.

Soon enough, the woman's wallet, if not the rest of her purse, is found by a certain Georges Palet (André Dussollier), a middle aged man who lives in a gorgeous house with his wife of 30 years, Suzanne (Anne Consigny). Georges examines the wallet in great detail, examining her appearance in one ID photo and then another, discovering that her name is Marguerite Muir, that she is a hobby pilot, and so forth.

Georges turns the wallet into the police but his preoccupation with Marguerite doesn't end. He begins writing her letters and leaving messages on the answering machine of her impossibly stylish apartment every day. His infatuation grows until she is forced to contact the police about his behaviour. Unfortunately, once Georges attentions are no longer focused on her, Marguerite realises that perhaps she misses him, and soon she is the one following Georges to the movies, calling his house repeatedly and missing work in order to visit his home.

Resnais artfully turns the narrative on its head, exploring both Georges' and Marguerite's loneliness, curiosity and longing for love. Wild Grass looks gorgeous, and long vividly coloured tracking shots of grass punctuate the surreal story. Events are inexplicable, characters' motivations mysterious, and the results of every action surprising beyond comprehension. Wild Grass was like a refreshing icy drink on a hot summer's day compared to the many bleak, violent and disturbing films that populated this year's competition. Plus, I have to say that it's incredibly refreshing that the central characters in this quirky love story are in their 50s and 60s. This fact might even make it more charming, sexy and romantic than it would be otherwise.

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