January 24, 2011

MOVIES: Wild Grass (Alain Resnais, 2009/US 2010)

The latest from the legendary French director.

Marguerite's purse is stolen. Georges finds her wallet in a nearby parking garage. He makes several attempts to phone her; when he cannot reach her, he turns in the wallet to the police. They return it to Marguerite, who phones Georges to thank him. That's the first 15 minutes or so of the movie, and once that scenario is established, nothing else in the movie will make narrative or logical sense.

From there, we're off on a weird, rambling, stream-of-consciousness tale in which Georges gets obsessed and stalks Marguerite for a while, until he suddenly loses interest, which somehow leads to her stalking him. That dynamic goes back and forth a few times, never with any apparent cause or justification.

There are shreds of information that look like they might lead to a plot. There are suggestions early on that Georges is hiding a dark secret, probably something criminal, but nothing ever comes of it. Marguerite is an amateur pilot who's recently purchased a vintage Spitfire; Georges has a fondness for war movies.

Characters' personalities shift rapidly, changing as the needs of the scene require, and these changes are almost never noticed or commented on by other characters. Then again, no one really even seems to notice the personality of anyone else even within a given scene. There's a moment when Marguerite suddenly arrives to offer to take Georges and his wife flying; they accept, despite the fact that the invitation is offered in so menacing a tone that Marguerite is only a mustache and a top hat away from being Snidely Whiplash.

The movie is lovely to look at, and Resnais finds some novel ways to tell his story (such as it is). After Georges finds the wallet, for instance, we see him driving home, mentally rehearsing the phone call he'll make to Marguerite in a conversation with his own disembodied head, floating above the passenger seat next to him. And Mark Snow's score is a lovely, jazzy thing that helps to set a sinister mood.

But the clever visuals can't hide the fact that the movie has the narrative cohesion of a story told by a 3-year-old ("...and then a giant puppy comes and eats Godzilla, and then he poops everywhere, and the poop is made of chocolate, and everyone eats it, and..."). Wild Grass is a stylishly incoherent mess.

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