Alain Resnais’ Wild Grass is a sometimes-perplexing movie about the unexpected consequences of meaningless events. It’s well-acted and confidently directed, as well as strangely rewarding for those who don’t require straightforward explanations. There are elegant moments of filmmaking prowess, and bizarre moments that defy the most basic cinematic conventions. After directing for over sixty years, perhaps Resnais is done with simple narratives, and doesn’t care to explain himself. One thing is for sure: advanced age hasn’t shaken the director’s grasp of his craft.
Georges (André Dussollier) is a deliberate, curious man who stumbles upon someone else’s wallet. Perusing through the documents inside, he discovers the wallet belongs to Marguerite (Sabine Azéma), a middle-aged amateur pilot. Georges narrates the entire movie, and at this moment he is wistful. Marguerite appears drab in her driver’s license and stunning in her pilot’s license, so Georges imagines her as a vivacious woman who lives through her hobby. He takes the wallet to the police station, where the officer (Mathieu Amalric) takes a begrudged interest in the case. Georges declines the potential for a reward, yet he and Marguerite begin a strange tug-of-war, one that ignores societal conventions. Meanwhile Georges’ wife (Anne Consigny) and Marguerite’s best friend (Emmanuelle Devos) get wrapped up in the drama. Resnais hints at romantic developments between George and Marguerite, so when the four are later flying aboard Marguerite’s plane, the tension is palpable.
I first found Resnais’ style maddening. He would suggest complications and later disregard them completely. As an example, take Georges’ narration. Always justifying himself, Georges obliquely refers to a dark past that’s never given further explanation. Only later does the director’s purpose become clear. Like everyday life, his story is messy and full of seemingly impossible developments. While we never fully grasp precisely who these characters are, familiar actors guide us through the storytelling murk, preserving interest in what will happen next. You may recognize André Dussollier as the veteran cop from Tell No One, and here he brings the same world-weariness. His direct manner of speaking makes him easily likable, even as his behavior gets increasingly erratic. The same can also be said of Sabine Azéma. With a shock of red hair and a plucky attitude, she’s easily watchable and a good foil Dussollier’s grave tone. Resnais isn’t content to simply regard his subjects. His camera is always moving, and several long shots are elegant in how they define space. Other moments, such the insertion of unlikely music into a dramatic high point, may lose the audience with have brazen contempt for filmmaking logic.
Some critics of Inception take issue with Christopher Nolan’s interpretation of the dream world. They say, “Dreams don’t really look like that. Where’s the bizarre imagery? This subconscious looks too much like a Hollywood blockbuster.” Ironically, a similar sort of criticism can be made Resnais’ perspective of the real word. Yes, parts of Wild Grass are impossible and bear little semblance to reality, yet as with Inception, such a complaint misses the point. Wild Grass need not resemble your preconceptions; quite the opposite, Resnais expects you to conform to his. By giving him the benefit of the doubt, you may leave the after a little confused, but you’ll also leave with a pleasant smile.