Wild Grass / Les Herbes Folles (2009)

Wild Grass

Alain Resnais, the great grand-monsieur of French cinema is de retour with Wild Grass a complex, lilting tale of the power of chance.

Wild Grass

The Grass is Always Greener by Laura Bennett

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

An adaptation of the 1996 novel L’incident by Christian Gailly, Alain Resnais’ return to form stars his long-term partner, Sabine Azéma and André Dussolier as a couple thrown together by fate, rushing headlong into confusion. An unmistakably French film, Wild Grass (Les herbes folles) is typical of Resnais’ challenging style. A patchwork of suggestions and dead ends, the narrative unfurls slowly and tangentially before being brought to an abrupt, interrogative end in the final few frames.

The story begins with an incident of chance. While out shopping for designer shoes in a fashionable Parisian boutique, Marguerite Muir’s (Azéma) bright yellow purse is snatched by an unseen passerby. Initially insouciant, she procrastinates over reporting the theft to the police. Meanwhile, Georges Palet (Dussolier) comes across her missing wallet in the dimly-lit monochrome of an underground suburban shopping centre car park. His curiosity is piqued by the quirky passport photo, personal details and an apparent common passion for aviation; he also finds Marguerite’s pilot’s licence. The middle-aged Georges’ imagination reels as an internal dialogue conjures up possible telephone conversations with the mysterious Marguerite in which he is tentatively reminiscent of a shy adolescent, unsure of his intentions. Egged on by a gruff gendarme, Georges leaves his details at the police station on the premise that there may be a reward for his altruism. Indeed, equally as inexplicably intrigued, Marguerite appears unable to resist the lure of the unknown and calls Georges to thank him, hesitantly interrupting him in the middle of an awkward family dinner.

This is enough to draw them both further and further in, the connection between the two spiralling evermore beyond their control, seemingly driven by a need for excitement and the unpredictable. Although at first Georges’ interest borders on obsession as he slashes the tyres of her sunshine yellow smart car to stop her from leaving, Marguerite soon mirrors his intensity, so unsettled is she that she absent-mindedly inflicts agony on a series of patients unlucky enough to find themselves in the chair at her dental surgery. Resnais talks of this “desire for desire”, arising from nothing and then feeding off itself, taking on an existence and power of its own.

A composer of images as much as a filmmaker, Resnais chooses to imbue Wild Grass with a rainbow of primary colours. Like a single brushstroke across a canvas splashes of colour create a motif throughout the film, emphasising the twists and turns of the characters’ emotions. Marguerite’s colours are vibrant, from her halo-like shock of flame red hair to her acid yellow bag and toy-like car. Georges’ pallet is cooler, his study is bathed in an eerie yet serene green glow, his wife asks him to paint their house with pallid, haughty blue paint. These colours do not dissolve or blend into one another; they follow without transition, adding to the syncopated feel of the film, fluctuating back and forth.

Often cutting to a shot of bright green unruly grass waving in the wind, Resnais’ characters are scattered seeds growing in the cracks between paving stones, on the margins of an organised and conventional existence; growing this way and that, lacking direction. At the mercy of unreasonable impulses, they can be led off unwittingly toward any number of different fates.

Threads are introduced that come to nothing. Early on Georges hints at having killed a man in his youth but the narrative moves on and this is seemingly forgotten, not mentioned again. His family are introduced yet fade away as quickly. He also seems to develop yet another irresistible attraction to Marguerite’s friend and colleague, who appears to suffer from a similar degree of confusion; this attraction is never resolved and is also swiftly passed over. It is easy to argue that the director is deliberately making the film as artificially contrived as possible by way of an intellectual exercise, yet a line from his film seems to sum up his creation neatly, “After the cinema nothing surprises you. Anything can happen. It doesn’t surprise you. Anything can happen as naturally as possible.”

Never one to play by the rules Resnais’ latest offering has clear echoes of his early experimental, and equalling provocative films, Hiroshima Mon Amour and Last Year at Marienbad. Such fresh thinking belies Resnais’ 88 years, proving that classic French cinema is bien vivant.

Wild Grass is released in the UK on June 18th 2010

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