"'After the cinema, nothing surprises you. Everything is possible.' So says the lovesick obsessive Georges Palet in a scene from Wild Grass, the 18th feature film directed by Alain Resnais, which arrives exactly 50 years after his debut, Hiroshima mon amour, which was praised by Eric Rohmer as 'the first modern film of sound cinema.'"
And so begins Scott Foundas's profile of Resnais in the Voice. Further in: "Arguably Resnais's trippiest, most freely associative experiment since 1968's Je t'aime, je t'aime (a critical and commercial failure in its day), Wild Grass zig-zags zanily from one genre to the next: Sometimes, it's a screwball comedy (complete with a couple of Keystone-worthy cops played by Mathieu Amalric and Michel Vuillermoz); sometimes, it's a thriller; sometimes, it's an old-fashioned movie romance. All the while, the camera of cinematographer Eric Gautier swoops and glides like Marguerite's plane, through fields of gauzy, diffuse light punctuated by neon accents."
"A disquisition could be written on Mr Resnais's use of red (stop), yellow (warning) and green (go), colors that speak to the characters' vertiginous states of mind," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Another chapter would have to be reserved for blue."
"Based upon a novel (by Christian Gailly, as yet untranslated into English) called L'Incident, Wild Grass begins by delineating the sequence of coincidences which leads, like fate or the plot of movie, to Georges Palet (André Dussollier) discovering the wallet of Marguerite Muir (Resnais's wife Sabine Azéma), a Miss Frizzle-haired dentist and amateur pilot of restored WWII-era dogfighters." The L's Mark Asch: "Naturellement, he immediately becomes obsessed with her. His hounding becomes more serious - his schizoid inner monologue seems to suggest that he killed a man in his youth, a thread that is abandoned as breezily as it's introduced - progressing from letters, to phone calls, to slashed tires (the camera tracks all the way around Marguerite's yellow car for four successive Dramatic Reveals). As it does, Marguerite becomes more receptive - as does her fellow dentist and best friend (Emmanuelle Devos), and Georges's wife (Anne Consigny). Desire is viral, it seems, or aesthetically persuasive."
"Wild Grass is cute stuff - maybe too cute," suggests Andrew Schenker in Slant. "It's as if, well past 80, and belatedly responding to a now-established younger generation of oh-so-clever, cinema-mad filmmakers like Arnaud Desplechin, Alain Resnais has set out to make a film exclusively built around the idea of movie-love, comprised primarily of witty little moments of cine-invention. But while the Last Year at Marienbad auteur's work has always seemed aware of itself as cinema, in the majority of his past efforts there's at least been something of interest - a rigorous intelligence at play, an engagement with some kind of outer world - behind the technique. With Wild Grass, strip away the endless bits of quirky business and there's nothing left to the picture."
"The characters' constant behavioral irrationality makes the first half of Wild Grass a frustrating watch, but these rougher waters, in which Resnais schizophrenically navigates through genres (thriller, romance, comedy), eventually calm somewhat and the film enters into a groove where possibilities become expansive and the discontinuity becomes the subject in itself," writes Jeff Reichert in Reverse Shot. Also: "Wild Grass is a wonderful movie, but it's worth pausing to note that there's some old-fashioned, unthinking sexism at play (reminiscent of the fits of passion caused by a chastely revealed stocking in [Private Fears in Public Places])."
"I'm surprised by the outpouring of critical praise for Wild Grass," blogs the New Yorker's Richard Brody. Resnais's "irtuosity with the camera merely passes the time on-screen as the mechanisms of his script grind along, performed with a benign theatrical loopiness that practically begs to be liked."
"Truth be told, when it comes to Alain Resnais's opening night film, my coin of verdict is still spinning comfortably somewhere in outer space, with no foreseeable return to Earth in sight," writes Michael Tully at Hammer to Nail. "Whatever the case, the gleeful audacity of Wild Grass cannot be denied."
"Impossible to completely grasp, let alone comprehend, with one viewing, yet an experience I won't soon forget, Wild Grass is a film I feel like I should embrace a little more than I initially have," writes James Hansen.
Bob Cashill at Popdose: "This is a poker-faced romp, not the usual pomp-and-circumstance opener... and, yes, quelle surprise for a festival that could use more of them."
Glenn Kenny has a couple of pix from the press conference: "Alternating between French and English, the maestro held forth on the future of cinema (it involves Arnaud Desplechin), his favorite television shows (The Sopranos... The Shield?!?... X-Files (of course)... DID he say The Wire?) and whether or not he's an auteur. He says not so much, we say hell yeah he is."
Online listening tip. At GreenCine Daily, Aaron Hillis talks with Andrew Grant and Nick Schager.
Earlier: Reviews from Cannes.
Updates, 9/27: "[T]his brittle comedy may also be the most purely surrealist of all his films, especially in its emphasis on irrational impulses (as well as its non-sequitur final shot)." Jonathan Rosenbaum: "And the fact that it's often creepy (as well as very personal) is surely more of a plus than a minus; it hasn't been acknowledged nearly enough that Resnais' best and most beautiful films... usually turn out to be his creepiest."
Glenn Kenny posts a series of notes and, if you're like me, you'll want to read each and every one of them, but I'll clip from just one: "It then occured to me that in some ways, throughout his career Resnais was creating a more genteel, less sexually morbid manifestation of 'the Lynchian' avant le lettre, going back as far as the phantasmagoric short Le chant de styrene."
Updates, 9/29: Brandon Harris: "He's not growing any more refined as a filmmaker at 87, but he's shirked off his trademark austerity for an accessible, vividly expressive melodramatic cinema that doesn't take itself seriously at all and is, as Resnais' films have always been, delirious with the possibilities of the medium to suggest varied states of consciousness."
Vadim Rizov reports on the press conference for IFC.
Updates, 10/1: "Revisiting the shifting perspective, stream of consciousness narrative of Providence, Alain Resnais's Les Herbes folles is a more whimsical variation on the themes of subjective reality and causality," writes Acquarello.
"It also has the final scene of the year," notes Keith Uhlich in Time Out New York.
Update, 10/2: "Resnais's film keeps you guessing even beyond the audacious ending," writes Marcy Dermansky.
Update, 10/3: "What do we expect of aging directors?" asks Cullen Gallagher at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "An elegiac swansong, such as Akira Kurosawa's Madadayo, that self-consciously explores age and approaching death? Or something like Ingmar Bergman's Saraband, in which the director reunites with long-time actors to revive characters and stories begun three decades earlier? Maybe Eric Rohmer's The Romance of Astrea and Celadon, so consistent with the director's inimitable styles and themes that it could have been made at any point in his career? What these movies all share in common with Wild Grass is that their makers were all octogenarians with decades of international success behind them.... Resnais has diverged from his contemporaries in continuing to expand and experiment."
Updates, 10/7: For Nick Schager, this one goes "down in flames, partaking in meta gestures and random flights of fancy with a reckless abandon unjustified by its perplexing, off-putting tale."
Online viewing. Alessandro Minoli talks with Amalric for IFC News.
Update, 10/10: "Like its title vegetation, Alain Resnais's Wild Grass has a free-sprouting nature, unaffected in manner and developing as it will, and as such has too little self-regard to be one of those movies about movie love," writes Stuart Klawans in the Nation. "I don't know when I last saw a film directed with such complete freedom - freedom even from ostentation about the director's mastery. You sense that all of the resources of cinema are available to Resnais at any moment; that he can make faces suddenly pop out of any part of the screen he likes, make time run in reverse, let his camera wander off to incidental points of interest, change the characters' costumes or the time of day right before your eyes.... This is artifice, all right, but of the sort that has become second nature to the old artificer; virtuosity, but of the sort that escapes both the constraints of gravity and the shackles of the virtuoso's desire to prove himself."
NYFF 09: Index; full coverage.