Tuesday, December 14, 2010

 

Learn from a master


By Edward Copeland
Watching the opening minutes of Wild Grass, if you didn't know who directed the film, you wouldn't realize the filmmaker was well into his 80s and one of the legends of cinema. The beauty and fluidity in which the images grab you would seem to shout the coming of a strong new talent. However, Wild Grass shows that Alain Resnais, who turned 88 this summer, still has the ability to make a film far more compelling than directors a third of his age.


The master behind such classics as Hiroshima, Mon Amour and my personal favorite of his, Last Year at Marienbad, brings an unusually energetic flair to Wild Grass, which begins simply enough with the theft of a purse belonging to Marguerite Muir (Sabine Azema). The sequence soars as slow-motion shots surveill the red purse flying through the air as she makes her way down the sidewalk running parallel to a strip of stores.

Azema, with a wild head of red hair, has been acting for quite a long time, best known to me for her great work in Bertrand Tavernier's A Sunday in the Country, which won her the Cesar for best actress and the National Board of Review prize for best supporting actress in 1984.

Her abandoned wallet, money missing, is discovered by Georges Palet (Andre Dussollier) who turns it into the police (in the form of the always great Mathieu Almaric) but Georges develops an unhealthy obsession with Marguerite, despite the fact he has a very lovely wife of his own (Emmanuelle Devos).

There are hints from a voiceover, sometimes Georges, sometimes an omniscient narrator (Edouard Baer) that there is some ugliness in Georges' past. Perhaps some sort of murder, even of the serial slaying type. Definite hints of violence.

She calls to thank Georges for turning her wallet into the police, but he takes offense at her disinterest at meeting and his harassment escalates. His stalking begins to be too much for Marguerite, who tries to get the police to warn him off, but she finds herself interested in this strange man as well. Is their mutual fascination a romantic one or something else?

Still, don't get the mistaken impression that Wild Grass is a thriller. It's much more complicated, intriguing and satisfying than that. Based on a novel by Christian Gailly and adapted by Alex Reval and Laurent Herbiet, you can never be certain where Wild Grass is heading and that's part of what makes it so compelling. Despite its stylish but rather conventional beginning, the film's ambiguity grows as it rolls along and that only makes it all the more mesmerizing.

The entire ensemble excels, though it's really Dussolier and Azema's show as far as the acting goes. As for the filmmaking, it belongs to Resnais.

It's not as if he hasn't been active lately, though I haven't seen any of his recent work, but to see a director pushing 90 produce a work of such mastery that puts filmmakers not even born when his classics were made to shame is a stunning feat indeed.


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