Friday, March 05, 2010

French Film Festival 2010 - 4 (Wild Grass)

Wild Grass (Les herbes folles, France/Italy, Alain Resnais, 2009)
Alain Resnais is a veteran of French cinema, and Wild Grass is only the second of his films that I've seen, the other being his previous film, Coeurs/Private Fears in Public Places. I get the sense that this unconventional film-maker might be an acquired taste. He has a fascination with artifice, not afraid to ignore cinematic conventions.

My initial impressions of Wild Grass were that the film assumes a god perspective. Seemingly ordinary events occur that may have greater consequences. We get different perspectives of the protagonists with both an all-knowing narrator as well as the ramblings of a protagonist's thoughts. It's an interesting observation, because our thoughts are usually uncensored compared to our words. I was initially afraid that the film would be full of these crazy, internal monologues. Thankfully, Resnais uses it as an establishing device, to let us know what kind of person we're dealing with.

Wild Grass is not concerned with the big issues per se. Rather, the film focuses on small details, the banal, and demonstrates how even minor events can have major ramifications. It's all a matter of perspective. Maybe this is a reflection of his age (he's in his late 80s), though it's something I relate to.

There's little attempt by Resnais to maintain a semblance of reality. The personal interactions are quite absurd, almost surreal. Yet somehow there are, beneath the dry and understated humour, some quite profound human observations. I couldn't help but make a connection to José Luis Guerín's In the City of Sylvia. Stylistically and aesthetically, they're very different films, but both are concerned with the duality of simulataneous desire for and fear of human connection. This theme struck me very strongly upon seeing each film, because it's a theme or issue I ponder very much myself.

I think we all crave a deeper sense of connection to others. We sit in cafes or walk down the street. Maybe we see someone and think that person looks interesting, or attractive in one way or another. I was having this very conversation with a couple of strangers down Degraves St. in the city just a couple of days ago.

Maybe we reach out. Maybe there's reciprocation, maybe not. Maybe there's indifference, or rejection. Maybe the other person is outwardly cold but inwardly craving the same sort of connection, a spiritual yearning perhaps. This human duality fascinates me, and is what I like most about this Resnais film. Wild Grass is funny, romantic and thought-provoking. I don't have a full handle on where Resnais is coming from, but seeing this film, I'm keen to see more of his back catalogue.


dmk said...

You've only seen his previous film? Paul, I know it's been said before, but limiting yourself to whatever is playing at the cinema is so wrong. There's a whole world of cinema out there, on dvd, online, that has your name on it.

At least check out Hiroshima mon amour/Last Year at Marienbad. Both very fine films, widely considered his best, and a door into some more insight.

I didn't buy a ticket for this film for I read about all the cuteness. Not for me.
But I won't for the world miss the Denis. Did you see the new Bruno Dumont?

Paul Martin said...

DMK, you know that I don't limit myself to contemporary cinema. Melbourne Cinémathèque accounts for about 20% of my annual film intake and last year 42% of the films I saw were pre-2000. I actually have Last Year at Marienbad on DVD, but haven't seen it yet. I'm sure Cinémathèque will put on a Resnais season in the not-too-distant future.

I saw the Denis film this evening and can confirm that it's worth seeing. My post on White Material is now online.

As much as I'd love to, I just can't fit Dumont's Hadewijch at ACMI into my schedule as I have committed myself to seeing an inferior film at the French Film Festival with the family.

Paul Martin said...

I should add that I would suggest not discounting Wild Grass for what you imagine to be its cuteness. I think it's both a thoughtful and a thought-provoking film that is worth seeing.

dmk said...

That's a great shame, for I can really see you loving Hadewijch. Oh well, I guess you can check it out when it comes out on DVD.

Wait...! :D

Wild Grass, definitely something I'll see on DVD.

Jake said...

I'm glad you've been moved to reconsider on Resnais. These are interesting observations, and to me they ring true.

Paul Martin said...

I'm impressed that you remember my indifference for Coeurs, Jake. I don't remember the film so well, mostly that it all seemed so staged, which distracted me at the time. I don't know much about Resnais, but it seems to be his thing. One has to see beyond the artifice, I suppose, to appreciate what he's about.

Jake said...

Wasn't Coeurs on one of your worst-of-the-year lists? With Resnais, I don't think it's a matter of looking past the artifice so much as recognising that all cinema is "artificial" from the outset. But your humanist approach to Wild Grass feels valid too.

Paul Martin said...

No, not at all. It did nothing for me at the time, but I think I need to revisit and possibly reevaluate Coeurs. But first I'd like to see his other films, to get a handle on what he's about. Or perhaps read up a bit. Thanks for picking up my intentions with your comment about humanism.

I know we've discussed the importance of having a mission statement or similar, which I've ever done on here. In the absence of one, I will say here, that humanism is an angle that I would like to develop further on my blog, because it's an important aspect that informs my interpretation of film.

All cinema may indeed be "artificial" but when I watch a film, there's a part of me that thinks it's real for the duration. I forget they are actors, and that it might be filmed on a set. With Coeurs, I was conscious throughout that it was an actor reading his lines on a set.