Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Review: "Wild Grass"

If you insist on imposing a conventional narrative understanding of film onto "Wild Grass," you're bound to come away disappointed. But if you give in to the movie and abandon the notion of coherent storytelling in favor of imaginative visuals and playful encounters, then ... you may still be left frustrated.

I make no bones about my preference for narrative film. Every time I sit in a theater and the lights go down, the plea that comes to mind is, "Tell me a story." One can recognize the pure cinematic genius of a Bunuel, Warhol or Fellini while still recognizing that spinning a great yarn is the heart of what making movies is all about.

Director Alain Resnais is generally recognized as part of the French New Wave, even though he was already making movies when Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard were still posing as film critics. Nearly 90, he's still at it. And while I bless him for doing what he obviously loves so late in life, I did not find much to love about his newest, "Wild Grass."

This is the story ... dang, there I go again ... about a man and a woman brought together by a wallet. Her wallet. While shopping for shoes, her purse is stolen, and he finds her red wallet next to his car in a parking garage.

Seeing her identification, the man (André Dussollier) seems to recognize the woman from long ago. Based on the wallet's contents, she is a private person, well-to-do and flies planes as a hobby. Eventually, he turns in the wallet to the police, though he is terrified of going to the station. According to his interior monologue, he is worried that he will be recognized.

There is trouble in his past -- dark and violent. His thoughts often turn to killing people who annoy him. He goes by the name Georges Palet, though we feel certain this is not his real name.

The woman, Marguerite Muir (Sabine Azéma), is a dentist with flaming red hair who treasures her independence. Other than her partner and best friend (Emmanuelle Devos), she does not seem to have any significant personal relationships, other than cavorting with some other pilots.

She calls to thank him for returning the wallet. He asks to meet her, she questions why, and he snaps at her. Then he starts stalking her apartment, leaving long intimate messages on her answering machine, and dropping notes in her mailbox.

Eventually the police get involved again, this time to warn Georges to leave Marguerite alone. Curiously, as soon as his interest in her begins to wane, she seeks him out. His obsession with having a vital connection with a stranger becomes hers.

Is the interest romantic? Perhaps, but Georges is married, although his wife (Anne Consigny) does not seem bothered by his fixation on another woman; she even invites Marguerite over for coffee while he is away watching an old American war movie, "The Bridges at Toko-Ri."

Resnais, working from a screenplay by Alex Reval and Laurent Herbiet based on the novel by Christian Gailly, sends his camera soaring and flitting about his characters, often joining their faces in not so much a split-screen as a cloud of interconnection.

I think the theme is supposed to be about the recognition of perfect love, but if this is love then it's the creepiest kind imaginable. The feeling I was left with was that Georges belongs (back?) in prison, Marguerite has a borderline personality disorder, and the other characters are mere constructions to facilitate the plot, such as it is.

"Wild Grass" is about the randomness of life, and how the meaning behind arbitrary events is incomprehensible and opaque. This also describes what the experience of watching the film is like.

1.5 stars out of four

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