Wild Grass (Les herbes folles)


Wild Grass

Sabine Azema realizes that she’s lost the winning lotto ticket.

(2009) Drama (Sony Classics) Sabine Azema, Andre Dussollier, Anne Consigny, Emmanuelle Devos, Mathieu Amalric, Michel Vuillermoz, Edouard Baer (voice), Annie Cordy, Sara Forestier, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Vladimir Consigny, Dominique Rozan, Candice Charles. Directed by Alain Resnais

 

There are those that say things happen for a reason. Others say that life is a series of happy (or unhappy accidents), that everything is random chance. For them, life is a series of small miracles of cause and reaction.

Marguerite Muir is a dentist who has unusually sized feet. Finding shoes in her size is for her a bit tricky and often painful. She stops in a shoe store while on a lunch break and discovers, wonder of wonders and miracle of miracles, a pair that fits. She is so giddy when she leaves the shop that she fails to notice what’s happening around her and her purse is snatched.

Georges Palet is closer to sixty than to fifty and is unemployed. His life has been colored by a dark secret in his past, one that haunts him in everything he does. While he is married to Suzanne (A. Consigny), there is something missing. He finds Marguerite’s wallet with her ID. He wants to return it to her personally, but that proves to be too much of a logistical difficulty. He winds up turning it into the police from whom she picks it up.

Feeling a bit guilty at her ingratitude, she calls up Georges to make amends. A series of awkward conversations follow and soon the two begin to feel more comfortable around each other. Georges has a thing about aviation. She’s an amateur pilot. Soon, a kind of friendship ensues. Suzanne is pulled into the maelstrom, as is Marguerite’s closest friend and business partner Josepha (Devos).

Director Alain Resnais, one of the greatest of all French directors and auteur of such classics as Last Year at Marienbad, Hiroshima mon amour  and Mon oncle d’Amerique, was 87 when this was filmed and hasn’t lost a beat. There’s nothing stodgy here, although one figures that in another epoch Resnais might have used younger actors. Both Georges and Marguerite are in their 50s here and the viewpoint is different than might be if the characters were in their 20s or 30s.

This is in some ways a maddening film. There is much left unspoken – what event in Georges past haunts him so much in the present day, for example and yet there is an intrusive voiceover by Baer that sometimes goes in a whimsical direction, changing mood and one suspects, the storyline itself. In fact, there is a sense that the narrator is making things up and not necessarily telling us what really “happened.” That gives the film the sense of a story someone is telling you, brought to life. That’s an interesting sensation, but ultimately unsatisfying from a cinematic viewpoint.

On the plus side, this is one of the more beautifully filmed movies that I’ve seen recently. Ranging from pleasant home gardens, slick neon-lit cityscapes and barren landscapes, every image seems to reinforce the mood of the film. Mark Isham’s jazzy score also nicely reinforces the mood.

Azema and Dussollier are both veterans of Resnais’ films, and both seem to know instinctively what their director wants of them. The two have a comfortable chemistry, no doubt fostered by the director who lets the two actors inhabit their roles nicely.

Unfortunately, the movie also illustrates one of my pet peeves about auteur cinema – the tendency to sacrifice story for form. The movie then becomes about the packaging and not what’s inside it; when art becomes Art, it usually means that there is some self-indulgence going on.

This isn’t the easiest movie to sit through. It tends to give you too much detail about things you don’t care about and not enough about things you do care about. That can be frustrating for the viewer. Are the rewards worth the frustrations in the end? That really kind of depends on how much of an investment of time and thought you want to put into the movie, and that kind of depends on how inspired you are by the characters and the story. In my case, not really as much as I wanted to be.

WHY RENT THIS: Beautifully filmed and well-acted. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Overbearing narration. Sometimes too artsy-fartsy for its own good.

FAMILY VALUES: Some of the thematic material is on the mature side. There are also a few bad words scattered throughout as well as some smoking.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Actor Roger Pierre appeared in a cameo role as an elderly dental patient, espousing that this would be his last visit to the dentist that he’d ever need. The actor passed away shortly after filming was completed.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a featurette about production designer Jacques Saulnier.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $4.6M on a $14M production budget; unfortunately, the movie didn’t make back its production costs during its theatrical run.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Valet

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

NEXT: Mother and Child