You know those dreams you have where not much happens? You go about your day and the events you experience in your dream are so typical that they could nearly be mistaken for real life except for the fact that something about them is a little off.
You find yourself determined to accomplish something -- to over-think a hypothetical phone conversation, to perhaps make a connection with another person whom you've idealized way out of proportion, to fly in a plane or to satisfy your most childlike emotions of feeling excited or hurt in your own solipsistic, out-of-control dreamlike state.
It's not real, of course, it's part of your imagination or your subconscious – you're watching yourself act in ways that feel foreign to you as though you're being directed or you're acting in a movie that you're also directing. Unless it is real, you think and you begin to wonder since you weren't alone in your dream but you were with the people you love and a few you may not have met but whom nonetheless feel so amazingly familiar that you start analyzing everything looking for allegory or existential dilemma.
Freewheeling reverie and indulgent navel-gazing abound in eighty-eight year old Alain Resnais' latest effort Wild Grass. Adapted from Christian Gailly's novel L'Incident, the film tries to lull you into thinking it's one of the French auteur's most accessible efforts only for Renais to pull the rug out from under you.
And soon the work grows excessively irrational and challenging as it continues to the point where finally – out of sheer exhaustion and impatience – you're greeted with a final scene that's so absurd the only possible reaction is helpless laughter.
Yet despite the fact that exactly what transpires during the course of the pretentious film is anyone’s guess, it all begins inauspiciously enough as a seemingly routine narrative work in which dentist Marguerite Muir (Sabine Azema) becomes the victim of a purse snatching after visiting a high end shoe boutique.
When her wallet is later discovered abandoned on the ground in a parking garage by Georges Palet (Andre Dussollier), Wild Grass twinges with a more sinister and slightly suspicious subtext as the happily married middle-aged man quickly changes from simple good Samaritan to misguided stalker, unwilling to accept Margeruite’s polite phone call to thank him as the end of their tentative relationship.
Disappointed that she isn’t more curious about the man who returned her wallet to the tune of wanting to meet him as much as he desperately wants to meet her, Georges becomes increasingly obsessed, escalating in behavior from unwelcome ritual evening phone calls to slashing her tires.
After getting the police involved to try to weather the storm, the characters in Resnais’ film somehow shift, psychologically merging into one as illogically Marguerite transforms into the aggressor, unwilling to sever her ties with the unstable Georges.
While we were given clues early on into the movie that perhaps the characters weren’t exactly what they seemed as Resnais – remaining true to Gailly’s style – incorporated stream-of-consciousness narration that interrupt traditional voice-overs, once he begins exploring bizarre and inconsistent behavioral patterns, it becomes incredibly difficult to sympathize with either main character since they’re neither convincing nor very likable.
Likewise, in the fight to remain simultaneously rooted in reality as he is fascinated by fantasy, Resnais loses the battle altogether due to the plain fact that style cannot replace substance and there’s not enough being said in Grass to warrant the anarchically Wild approach.
Obviously it’s still commendable that after more than six decades of filmmaking, Resnais still enjoys marching to the beat of a drummer he’s created by tune of inserting odes to movies of yesteryear and relishing in the minutia of everyday life in ways that are sure to both dazzle and frustrate art house filmgoers. Having said this, unfortunately I’d still prefer to revisit Last Year at Marienbad rather than meander through these blades of Grass, whether I’m asleep, awake or somewhere in between.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I attended a press screening of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.