A wallet in fire engine red. A sports car in sunshine yellow. Iridescent blue neon. A mop of frizzy pomegranate hair atop a pair of Marc Jacobs pumps. So goes the list of color coded eccentricities in Alain Resnais’ latest comedy. Heralded as a return to the confounding fare that made his name in the early sixties, “Wild Grass” is certainly the boldest work he’s helmed during my lifetime. From “Night and Fog” through “Muriel”, I connected. I was even moved. Though I sat through the adaptations of mildewed jazz age plays, anachronistic musicals, and the artificial snow of the subsequent films, I can’t claim any insight into his motivations. Although his latest amuses in fits and spurts, the entire venture suggests that now that he’s getting up there in years, he and his longtime partner Sabine Azéma sought to turn the studio into their personal playground. This is the cinematic equivalent of an inside joke.
The premise involves Georges, an elderly man with a vivid imagination, and Marguerite, a woman of a certain age with the aforementioned puff of hair. She’s the victim of a pickpocket. He’s a guy with an astute eye for discarded red patent leather wallets. The theft and subsequent discovery set the film in cartoon motion. That’s a term coined by a close friend that is meant to describe characters and events that move in a heightened, exaggerated way. Physics, logic, and time itself do not apply. Moments of the Wachowski brothers’ “Speed Racer”, and the entirety of the unintentionally hilarious “Precious” approximate this feeling, but Renais may be the first to apply it so directly to the aged.
The film presents an endless array of red herrings. Through overlapping, conflicting voiceovers; superimposed, imagined conversations; and inexplicable actions, Resnais creates a world where anything can happen at any moment. Internally, Georges ruminates on murder and struggles with a haunted past, but appears to have maintained a tolerable marriage for over thirty years. Considering the fact his wife doesn’t look a day over 36, even reality is dubious. Or take his son; like a Russian member of Daft Punk, he makes a surprise dinner appearance in his motorcycle helmet. He’s never heard from again. Or take the impossibly positive response the film’s women have for Georges. Neither flush with cash, charisma, or looks, his blank, deer-in-headlights stare and bursts of rage have a peculiar seductive effect. How about Mathieu Amalric’s team of befuddled Keystone Cops? Even their uniforms appear taped together and ready to unravel as Resnais’ dream-logic driven farce draws to a close.
In the end, your enjoyment of the film depends on your tolerance for cinematic slights of hand. Some called it “mysterious”, but that implies that repeated investigation will reveal something substantive. I just don’t see it. “Wild Grass” is an ourboros, a snake chasing its own tail, a riddle without an answer. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth seeing. Just know what you’re walking into.
“Wild Grass” is available in Chicago from Netflix and Facets on DVD.