Wild Grass

Written by:
Elgy Gillespie
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Wild Grass

Directed by Alain Resnais
Written by Alex Réval and Laurent Herbiet, from the novel L’Incident by Christine Gailly
Starring: Sabine Azéma, André Dussollier, Anne Consigny, Emmanuelle Devos and Mathieu Amalric
Run time: 104 minutes
In French with subtitles
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13

A simple tale that’s easily yet elegantly told, Wild Grass is also the work of a great master. With over half a century of filmmaking behind him since Night and Fog (1955) and Last Year at Marienbad (1961), Alain Resnais is now 88. He has not lost his comic touch, nor his ability to playfully confuse a viewer. Resnais recently described his newest film as a “jazz riff” about “the desire for desire” and uses the ludic Mark Snow score, brightly colored cinematography, and a solemn narrator (Edouard Baer) to underscore his playfulness.

Retired, sixty-ish and wistful, his George Palet (André Dussollier) is a man at loose ends, who happens upon a stolen wallet in a parking lot. Inside it he finds two photos of Marguerite Muir, a dentist. In one she looks like a sad kitten; in the second she’s a feisty aviator. When he turns in her wallet to the police, Georges meets an officer (Mathieu Amalric) and his fellow cop (Michel Vuillermoz). Marguerite calls to thank Georges but declines to meet him in person—a refusal that triggers a spate of confessional letters and calls in Georges, who slashes her tires in his obsessive need.  

If all this sounds slow and boring, it isn’t. We develop sympathy for pitiful Georges and also for Marguerite, both desperately hungry for romance—so hungry that it eats away at them visibly, notwithstanding George’s family, his comfortable house and his hardworking wife, and Marguerite’s more practical girlfriend Josépha, nicely nailed by Emmanuelle Devos. Various visual tricks from tracking and zoom shots to speeds and inserts help us out while Marguerite pursues him to a cinema where a nostalgic war film starring William Holden is playing. Then we go to his house, which he is painting yet another primary color to replace the bright greens and yellows Resnais has been using.

One of the funniest scenes brings the two policemen to his front door to confront him about harassing Marguerite. They wind up admiring his new blue paint. But soon Marguerite warms to his overtures, wavering in her rejection despite his friendly wife, and then rediscovers her bi-plane and her old passion for flying.

In the lead up to the very sudden, unexpected ending we see how they can “meet cute” despite it all. The stubbornness of desire continues to flourish, like wild grass in the cracks of the sidewalks. The finale may disappoint and intrigue or amuse viewers. It may also remind some of the end of Jules and Jim.

Yes, it’s a ridiculous ending, but in the end it’s also the most poetic. Not necessarily a masterwork, Wild Grass is nonetheless the work of a master, a great shout out to mature love and the desires of an older man to release the ardor and splendor still burning in his heart.

It’s enough to make all males over forty throw away their Viagra and Cialis, and fall back on their naturally French XY chromosomes. It’s a witty charmer al right; what’s wrong with an hour or so in France and spent in the best of company?

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