Wild Grass (Les herbes folles) (a J!-ENT DVD Review)
October 12, 2010 by Dennis Amith
When it comes to Alain Resnais films…expect the unexpected and most importantly, do not expect traditional structure because Resnais has always made films his way, whether or not one approves or disapproves. “Wild Grass” is a film that is absurd, unique, confusing and entertaining, fun and enjoyable all at once. Another masterpiece from Alain Resnais. Definitely recommended!
© 2009, 2010 F Comme Film, StudioCanal, France 2 Cinema and BiM Distribuzione. All Rights Reserved.
DVD TITLE: Wild Grass (Les herbes folles )
YEAR OF MOVIE: 2009
DURATION: 104 Minutes
DVD INFORMATION: Anamorphic Widescreen (2:35:1), French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English
COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics
RATED: PG (For Some Thematic Material, Language and Brief Smoking)
RELEASE DATE: October 26, 2010
Directed by Alain Resnais
Based on the novel “L’incident” by Christian Gailly
Adaptation by Alex Reval and Laurent Herbiet
Executive Producer: Julie Salvador
Produced by Jean-Louis Livi
Music by Mark Snow
Cinematography by Eric Gautier
Edited by Herve de Luze
Production Design by Jacques Saulnier
Costume Design by Jackie Budin
Andre Dussollier as Georges Palet
Sabine Azema as Marguerite Muir
Emmanuelle Devos as Josepha
Mathieu Amalric as Bernard de Bordeaux
Anne Consigny as Suzanne Palet
Michel Vulliermoz as Lucien d’Orange
Edouard Baer as Le Narrateur
Annie Cordy as La voisine
Sara Forestier as Elodie
Nicolas Duvauchelle as Jean-Mi
Vladimir Consigny as Marcelin Palet
Dominique Rozan as Sikorsky
Jean-Noel Broute as Mickey
A wallet lost and found opens the door – slightly – to Georges and Marguerite’s romantic adventure. After finding a red wallet and examining the ID of it’s owner, it is not a simple matter for Geroges to turn it into the police. Nor can Marguerite retrieve her wallet without being piqued with curiosity about the person who found it. As they navigate the social protocols of giving and acknowledging thanks, turbulence enters their lives. WILD GRASS is based on the novel “L’incident” by French novelist Christian Gailly.
Legendary French New Wave filmmaker Alain Resnais will always be known for his films “Hiroshima mon amour” (1959), “Last Year at Marienbad” (1961), “Je t’aime, je t’aime” (1968). And throughout his career, his critics and those who have felt the Nouvelle Vague directors have nothing to give past the late 50’s and 60’s, are astonished that Resnais has managed to garner attention nearly every decade since.
May it be “Providence” (1977), “Mon oncle d’Amerique” (1980), “Smoking/No Smoking” (1993) and here we are with “Les herbes folles” of 2009, better known as “Wild Grass”. Winner of a “Special Award” and “Jury Special Prize” at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival and at 87-years-old at the time, still managing to entertain, amuse, confuse and challenge his viewers with another non-traditional film.
As he did with “Last Year at Marienbad”, if you were the type who ended up scratching your head in confusion, “Wild Grass” may be one of those films that either goes over your head or you can’t help but have a smile in your face and feel that Resnais still has it.
That is how I felt when I watched “Wild Grass”, a feeling of nostalgia of Resnais’ older films but also a modern side to the filmmaker who continues to defy filmmaking practices by thinking outside of the box and doing what he does best. Creating wonderful cinema that will either be hailed as a masterpiece or loathed as trite and incomprehensible.
“Wild Grass” is a film adaptation of the novel “L’incident by Christian Gailly and adapted to screen by Alex Reval and Laurent Herbiet. Director Alain Resnais is paired with popular cinematographer Eric Gautier (“A Christmas Tale”, “Summer Hours”, “Clean”, “The Motorcycle Diaries”), well-known editor Herve de Luze (“The Pianist”, “Private Fears in Public Places”, “Manon of the Spring”), production designer Jacques Saulnier (“Last Year at Marienbad”, “French Connection II”, “Mon oncle d’Amerique”) and musician Mark Snow.
The film revolves around Marguerite Muir (played by Resnais muse and partner Sabine Azema, “Same Old Song”, “Smoking/No Smokin”, “Melo”), a dentist who has an average life with no thrills (unless its spent on the usual pair of shoes) and a man named Georges Palet (played by Andre Dussollier, “Amelie”, “Officer’s Ward”, “Les enfants du Marais”), a married man who may have had some type of violent (and possibly criminal) past due to his calm-to-angry outbursts of wanting to kill.
One day, after a day of shoe shopping, Marguerite’s purse is snatched by a robber. But instead of screaming for help, she just lets it go and instead of contacting the police, she takes a bubble bath, as if she wants to see what ramifications she will endure after her purse has been stolen.
Meanwhile, Georges makes his way to his car, after a day at the mall to have his watch repaired. He sees a wallet dropped near the tire of his car and it belongs to Marguerite Muir.
When he looks through the wallet, although the picture of Marguerite doesn’t catch his attention, he finds her pilot license which captures his attention to the point that part of him wants to bring the wallet to the police and parts of him agonize that he should meet and introduce himself to Marguerite. But in the end, his conscience brings him to the police in which he leaves the wallet to the police officer Bernard de Bordeaux (played by Mathieu Amalric) and even there, he struggles to give the wallet until Bernard chases him outside of the police station to talk to him.
But although Georges has given the wallet to the police, who give it to the rightful owner, he continues to agonize over the wallet and wanting to meet Marguerite, that he finds himself calling her every day to tell him about his life (of wanting to fly airplanes and how it was his dream as a child), writing her and it starts to consume him that he is starting to obsess over her and his wife Suzanne (played by Anne Consigny) is starting to see a change within him.
As for Marguerite, part of her is a bit freaked out that this man is calling and writing her so often but part of her kind of enjoys this attention in a stalker-ish type of way. But when she calls to say thank you to George for finding his wallet, when he expects more than a thank you and wants to meet with her, she tells him no. And immediately, he is hurt by the rejection and tries to apologize to her by writing her a letter once again and even going as far as slashing all of her tires in her car.
Marguerite doesn’t know if she has a obsessed stalker in her life and while part of her knows what Georges is doing is creepy (and wants to report him to the police), part of her craves the attention and in a turn of events, she ends up trying to stalk him and know about his life.
Will Georges and Marguerite ever cross each others path? What will happen when the two come face-to-face?
“Wild Grass” is presented in Anamorphic widescreen (2:35:1). At 87-years-old, Alain Resnais still vies for experimental shots in his films. “Wild Grass” features cool track shots, a very cool cinema shot between both André Dussollier and Sabine Azéma. Shots that border between artistic, humorous, absurd and as mentioned, experimental.
If anything, the film features quite a bit of vibrancy in with its colors but at the same time, the film definitely appears to have much more of a budget that previous modern Resnais films as well. Aside from the various set locations, use of airplanes, “Wild Grass” also employs very cool, elaborate set designs courtesy of long-time Resnais’ production designer Jacques Saulnier (“Last Year at Marienbad”, “Private Fears in Public Places”, “French Connection II”).
If anything, Alain Resnais has chosen wisely in collaborating with Eric Gautier (“Summer Hours”, “A Christmas Tale”, “Into the Wild”, “The Motorcycle Diaries”, “Clean”). Gautier is clearly one of my top living cinematographers in world of modern cinema and although I am not sure how much leeway an older Resnais has given Gautier but look at the shots of this film, this is definitely Gautier with a touch of Resnais magic spread throughout the entire film.
As for the the picture quality, as expected from a DVD release, you are going to see banding especially during the red moments, edge enhancement and even artifacting.
Granted it’s not terrible nor will it ruin your viewing of the film but it’s there. I was hoping that “Wild Grass” would receive the simultaneous Sony Pictures Classics Blu-ray and DVD release but I can understand that a non-traditional, random and experimental film like “Wild Grass” may not be for everyone.
“Wild Grass” is presented in French 5.1 Dolby Digital. Dialogue is clear and understandable, including the music courtesy of Mark Snow (known for his work on American TV shows “Smallville” and “Ghost Whisperer”), who brings a jazzy musical style to the film.
But there is surround channel use when it features crowd ambiance or the sounds of airplanes flying and the engines revving.
But overall, this is a dialogue-driven film and the French dialogue is quite clear.
Subtitles are in English.
“Wild Grass” comes with the following special features.
- Portraits of Production – Designer Jacques Saulnier – (6:30) Designer Jacques Saulnier talks about his longtime working relationship with filmmaker Alain Resnais and utilizing sets in his films especially for “Wild Grass”.
- Theatrical Trailer – (2:05) The original theatrical trailer for “Wild Grass”.
- Previews – Previews for upcoming Sony Pictures Classics video releases.
When it comes to Alain Resnais films, I find it entertaining to read reviews that pertain to his films. If there is one thing that I have found consistent over the years, people love Alain Resnais films and people don’t understand Alain Resnais films. You often read the word “frustrating” from today’s modern reviewers and I suppose if one is looking for traditional filmmaking and writing, one can easily be frustrated, especially with “Wild Grass”.
I for one, love the film because it’s so absurd, so non-traditional, so perplexing but yet, it’s a rare, beautiful and enjoyable film because you don’t know what to expect, and once you do feel as if you know where the story is going, Resnais made sure to make the viewer feel that because one has been so used to the banality of films, “Wild Grass” is not going to be stay within that paradigm. It’s going to be offer something different.
In many ways, “Wild Grass” is like a mixture of what we enjoyed from Resnais but also from classic films from Woody Allen, Nagisa Oshima, Luis Bunuel and Michelangelo Antonioni.
When you read the reactions to Antonioni’s “L’Avventura”, of how critics felt it was brilliant because it didn’t follow traditional Hollywood, the same goes for “Wild Grass”.
We see the character of Georges Palet at times showing off his anger and his willingness to kill and while most films would expose the character’s past as a mobster or deranged killer, Resnais doesn’t even bother to explain Georges or analyze why he is so obsessed with Marguerite. Nor does he need to showcase why he would desire a woman, when he has a young, beautiful wife. Nor does he even delve into why he starts making out with a woman he doesn’t even know. That’s the absurdity of “Wild Grass”, the rebellious side of Resnais that we have seen from a filmmaker like Oshima who doesn’t like following traditional filmmaking. And for Resnais, at 87-years-old, sure…this film may be light-hearted and humorous at the same time, but in a way, this film was like watching films that we have enjoyed in the ’60s but set for a modern setting.
The character of Marguerite Muir, not your usual damsel in distress or female character who is desperate for a man. If anything, she’s a woman who is tired of the doldrums in her life, the sameness that has pervaded her life of being a dentist, catering to patients and repeating that same lifestyle over and over again. But just when you think you know the woman, you find out that she’s also a pilot and has a side to her life that makes her quite interesting. And because she’s being stalked, many viewers have cried foul, “why doesn’t she go to the police”, “why doesn’t the police arrest him?”. And that is because, that is what we are used to seeing. “Wild Grass” goes against the norm of reality and filmmaking and makes it absurd and relieving itself from the banality of cinema. And then making Marguerite a stalker as well.
How fun to watch these two talents, André Dussollier and Sabine Azéma interact. And how brilliant was it for Resnais to make sure these two don’t really meet each other. They know of each other, they communicate but in this film, rarely do we see them together. Once again, going against the norm, the banality of cinema.
Andrew Schenker of Slant Magazine writes, “Resnais has never been a particularly warm filmmaker, but even here, when he dips, at least structurally, into the romantic drama, there’s almost nothing that seems genuinely felt—it’s all just a lot of half-clever nonsense.”
Schenker is correct. Resnais was never a warm filmmaker and yes, there is almost nothing that seems genuinely felt because of the absurdity of the film. But what is a Resnais film if it was romantic, that would be to cliche for the filmmaker.
And let’s talk about the cinematography. Alain Resnais is known for his moving camera shots and for many years, many would be inspired to having camera shots “a la Resnais” but as much as we do see Resnais’ influence through the tracking shots, we see another talented cinematographer, Eric Gautier, putting his cinematic influence in the film.
Also, notice how these characters are shown onscreen. Sabine with her fiery red hair, Andre in black, Suzanne in blue (the house in blue) and just how colors are utilized throughout the film. Colors that were definitely symbolic in my opinion.
By the end of this film, I felt that Alain Resnais had created another masterpiece for another decade, for another generation and for those who have supported his films for over 50-years, “Wild Grass” is a film that shows us that he still has what it takes to challenge the viewer, to entertain the viewer, to confuse the viewer but also to take us out of reality and within our minds, letting the viewer interpret the film their own way…good and bad. It doesn’t matter.
While the DVD doesn’t feature any interviews or featurettes with Alain Resnais, we do get a featurette with his long-time production designer Jacques Saulnier. It would have been great to see more special features but overall, I am content with this Sony Pictures Classics release. Although, I do feel this film would benefit from a Blu-ray release because of its visual style and colors. But nevertheless, I am glad that we are getting this DVD release in the US.
In essence, I can easily recommend this film to Alain Resnais fans but for the casual movie fan who are not familiar with his films, “Wild Grass” may frustrate or confuse you. Otherwise, for those who are familiar with Resnais, you can’t help but appreciate the absurdity and the visual appeal to this film. Throw your concept of what is the norm in cinema before watching this film and just embrace what Resnais is able to give, because even at 87-years-old, the filmmaker can still make you smile and feel entertained.
Overall, “Wild Grass” is everything you come to expect from Alain Resnais and that is, “expect the unexpected”. Enjoy the film for what it’s worth… enjoy the adventure of where Resnais is taking you and interpret the film anyway you want. “Wild Grass” is an Alain Resnais masterpiece that may not be for everyone, but if you get it, you will find this film quite enjoyable.
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