Cannes 2012. Alain Resnais' "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet"

Alain Resnais returns to the play between theater, cinema and life in his new film.
Daniel Kasman

Liberated into the unexplored wilderness of the outside world–genre-bending, free-wheeling—with Wild Grass, Alain Resnais now turns inward, back to the studio, back to adapting theater, back to pleating life onto itself to resemble memories and the cinema. You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet sees a cast of the directors' regulars “playing themselves” and being mysteriously called to the mansion of a deceased playwright, their longtime collaborator. They are asked to evaluate a recorded rehearsal performance of a new edition of a classic play by the deceased, “Eurydice”(in fact a combination of two real plays by Jean Anouilh), and as they watch young French actors taking on the roles they once played, the older generation begins wistfully recalling lines, then, growing more enamored by the memories and the material, becoming entranced by the recitation, take it over, and begin to perform the play themselves.

Some characters are played by multiple actors—the romantic leads, in older form, are Sabine Azéma and Pierre Arditi, and in younger form, Anne Consigny and Lambert Wilson—and Resnais cuts between multiple levels of stagings: the footage of the rehearsal (directed by filmmaker Bruno Podalydès), the actors in the screening room reciting to themselves or those next to them, and the actors carried away to a barely-complete set of the play, Resnais using green screen projections to dynamically alter and artificialize the settings (quite reminiscent of Ruiz's experiments in La Noche de enfrente).

Last time in Cannes, with Wild Grass, the director remarked that he is often mistaken to be a filmmaker of memory when in fact he believes he is one of imagination. Indeed, You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet isn't so much about the process of these actors recalling a past performance, but rather the process of them projecting themselves imaginatively into their young selves, into memories of performing with the others, into the fiction of the plays. Azéma is credited as Azéma, but that role as herself is no different than the recollection, playacting, or the consuming absorption into a role from her youth that she is too old and distant from to play, seemingly, yet is able to make her own.

This fluid meta-acting enables the film to quickly move from being about a gathering of actors to being about a performance of the play cinematically, one that constantly weaves between the integrity of the play itself and our reflection on its splintered creation through the bodies of actors, psychologies and dreams. The context is of a wake or funeral but one that calls up new life through recollection and reliving. The incantatory appeal of this morbid but warm ceremony, of the cinema taking theater players into an imaginative realm between the actual play and themselves, between movies and plays, reminiscences and sincere embodiment, sees itself through the end to a conjuration that blends these things inextricably into a fabric so densely woven it is impossible to separate the shading between watching, performing, recollecting, imagining, loving, dying and living. 

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