'Wild Grass' is no 'Sex and the City 2.' Or is it?

In 'Wild Grass,' French director Alain Resnais explores a chance meeting and the impulses that follow.

By , Film critic

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    André Dussollier (l.) stars in 'Wild Grass' as Georges, a contented house husband who becomes fascinated with a stranger.
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The French director Alain Resnais was 87 when he made "Wild Grass," but it doesn't seem like an "old man's movie." I guess you could call it autumnal but the leafiness is brightly colored.

The film's colorations are so prominent that they could almost serve as costars. It is not, for example, the face of Marguerite (Sabine Azéma), a dentist on a shopping spree, that we first see. Instead, it's her big halo of red hair, her equally bright red wallet, and her newly bought yellow handbag. Her sports car matches the color of her handbag, and her apartment is outfitted in shades of red, blue, and yellow neon. (No, this is not "Sex and the City 2," although sometimes it feels like it.)

As the film begins, Marguerite has her handbag snatched, and her wallet is found in a suburban parking garage by Georges (André Dussollier), whose face, like Marguerite's, is only revealed at the closeout of his introduction to us. We hear their ruminations in voice-over, though. The effect is a bit like being inside the heads of people who in every other sense are abstractions.

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Despite this abstractedness, Resnais and his screenwriters Alex Reval and Laurent Herbiet, adapting a novel by Christian Gailly, hew fairly close to realism in these opening passages. Even when the narrative unravels in flights of fancy Resnais doesn't go in for a lot of bells and whistles. He films illogic most logically.

This shouldn't be surprising if you remember that this is the same director who gave us "Last Year at Marienbad" – that hyper-rigorous head scratcher where the people were ultimately as interchangeable as chess pieces. But Resnais's methodology is inseparable from his distinctiveness – and his limitations. Even when he is filming stories of the utmost psychological gravity, he often stands at a remove from his characters. His movies are chilly, and "Wild Grass" is no exception.

The suspicion arises early that Resnais, yet again, may be more interested in his characters as pawns than as people. When Georges sees Marguerite's wallet photos – one happy, one sad – he becomes increasingly infatuated with her, even though he is a happily married father of two. After turning in Marguerite's wallet to the police, he stews over whether to contact her, and his stalkerlike maneuvers become increasingly unsettling.

And yet Resnais presents Georges, even when he slashes Marguerite's tires and she reports him to the cops, as an essentially harmless, enraptured fool. (Resnais chooses to reveal the slashing by slowly tracking his camera around all four tires. This is typical of how he defuses creepiness with artiness.)

To bolster Georges's supposed harmlessness, Resnais turns Marguerite, who is single, into a species of accomplice. Their relationship is that Gallic mainstay – a folie à deux. Marguerite is prone to tantrums that seem to erupt from her frizzy red ringlets, and her highly metaphorical passion is for piloting small aircraft through the wide-open skies.

I guess we're supposed to think these two are made for each other but ultimately Georges and Marguerite are filmic conceits. The real enrapturement here belongs to Resnais, and it's all about the cinema. There's a sequence when Georges and Marguerite embrace and the Twentieth Century Fox theme music comes on, and another where Georges, looking positively anointed, is photographed standing in the glowing entryway of a movie theater. In moments like these, whose fetish is on display? Resnais is an aesthete first and a humanist, distantly, second.

Rated PG for some thematic material, language, and brief smoking.

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