|Sony pictures classics
AndrÃ© Dussollier plays an aging Parisian suddenly obsessed with a woman. (Sony Pictures Classics)
‘Wild Grass’ yields cinematic corniness
At 88, the legendary French director Alain Resnais has earned the right to make whatever movie he wants, even a smug deconstructionist parlor game like “Wild Grass.’’ Thankfully, this doesn’t require you to watch it. The film — which, admittedly, has split critics and festival audiences into rhapsodic and cranky camps; count me among the latter — is a surrealist romantic comedy that keeps changing the rules as it goes. It’s vaguely reminiscent of Luis Buñuel’s last film, “That Obscure Object of Desire,’’ but where that was a dry and wicked work, “Wild Grass’’ just seems insufferably pleased with itself.
Resnais is still best known for his first two features, “Hiroshima Mon Amour’’ (1959) and “Last Year at Marienbad’’ (1961), challenging films in which image and meaning floated apart into occasional open conflict and in which memory served as a tool of the desperate human desire to connect. In “Wild Grass,’’ it’s as though the characters had lost their own short-term memories and were forced into manic improvisation.
The plot is just a pretext for its dismantling, but here goes: The august French actor André Dussollier plays Georges, an aging Parisian who discovers a lost wallet belonging to Marguerite (Sabine Azéma, the director’s longtime companion) and becomes obsessed with her to the point of stalking her and slashing her tires. A cop is called in (it’s Mathieu Almaric, who’s apparently in every French film these days), but Marguerite is starting to get intrigued by Georges herself, as is Josepha (Emmanuelle Devos), with whom Marguerite runs a dental practice when she’s not being a weekend aviatrix. (Oy.)
Georges’s wife, Suzanne (Anne Consigny), seems unperturbed by her husband’s mania, and why not? All of the film’s situations and emotions are constructed to evaporate within minutes, even seconds, of their application. “Wild Grass’’ hinges on a few scenes set at a neighborhood moviehouse, its curvy neon sign nudging us in the ribs that we’re not in reality but film-land, where anything can happen. Or, as one character bluntly states, “After the cinema, nothing surprises you.’’
He speaketh truth: In its refusal to connect the dots, “Wild Grass’’ is playful unto tediousness, and between Azéma’s overly cutesy performance — all Harpo Marx hair-frizz and popped eyes — and Mark Snow’s painfully (purposefully?) banal lounge-jazz score, the movie functions as a theoretical irritant rather than a film. The precious and the surreal combine for an off-putting corniness; this is the work of an old man, and not in a good way. It’s nice that Resnais has reverse-engineered the pleasures of moviegoing here and put them back together willy-nilly. Would that his enjoyment was enough to spark our own.
Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.