This tale is hard to get a grip on
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, July 23, 2010
"Wild Grass" might be the strangest film I've seen all year. Maybe all millennium. Is it any good? Quite frankly, I have no idea.
Like the 1996 novel "L'incident" on which it's based, the latest offering from French New Wave auteur Alain Resnais ("Hiroshima Mon Amour") is based on a simple enough premise. A man named Georges (André Dussollier) finds a woman's stolen wallet. Based on the papers and ID cards inside, he's able to track down the owner, Marguerite (Sabine Azéma).
Now in the real world, that story would be over pretty quickly: Ring, ring. I found your wallet. Oh, my God, you have no idea how worried I've been.
Not here. Georges can't bring himself to actually call Marguerite himself. He can barely handle the ordeal of taking the billfold to the police, but eventually an insistent cop (Mathieu Amalric) forces him to say why he's shown up stammering at the station.
Georges, you see, is no ordinary protagonist. There are hints, early on, of a criminal past. We learn that he can't vote, and then he, um, overreacts a tiny bit when he sees a pretty young woman walk by wearing visible black panties under thin white slacks. Georges wants to strangle her, the unidentified narrator tells us. (It's unclear whether Georges is more worked up by the fashion faux pas or by the sexual provocation.) So viewers may become understandably nervous when Georges starts stalking Marguerite after she has picked up her wallet, leaving her rambling letters and phone messages, slashing her tires.
How's that again?
You read that right. Georges quickly develops an unhealthy obsession. Then Marguerite returns the favor, stopping by Georges's house with her best friend (Emmanuelle Devos) in tow to meet with Georges's wife (Anne Consigny). Yes, he has a wife. And no, none of it makes a lick of sense. It's just possible -- indeed, it's likely -- that the whole thing is unfolding not in real time, but in Georges's head. Though Georges doesn't narrate the film, the voice-over (spoken by Edouard Baer) is from Georges's point of view, a point of view that is, to put it mildly, unreliable.
We could, in other words, be watching the fevered imagination of a paroled ax murderer.
Unfortunately, Resnais's grip on the material seems equally shaky. The movie's tone lurches from comedy to thriller to romance to psychological drama, with little, if any, recognizable human behavior in between. At one point, the filmmaker's camera -- and Georges's gaze -- lingers portentously on Georges's broken pants zipper, as though it were "Rosebud" in "Citizen Kane."
One reviewer of "L'incident" referred to the book's "narrative derangement," and it appears that Resnais has at least gotten that part right. In this film adaptation, the French title is "Les herbes folles," which could just as easily have been translated as "Wacky Weed." I'm not saying that it would help to see "Wild Grass" in an altered state, but it certainly couldn't hurt.
Contains brief crude language. In French with subtitles.