‘Wild Grass’: Octogenarian director enjoys pulling our legs

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, July 22, 2010 10:28pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Movie-making is a young man’s (or woman’s) game, they say. But this week brings a couple of new titles by directors born when movies were still silent.

Alain Resnais, who recently turned 88, weighs in with “Wild Grass,” a movie just as confounding (but much sprightlier) than his 1961 classic, “Last Year at Marienbad.”

Even Resnais must tip his hat to Manoel de Oliveira, whose “Eccentricities of a Blond-Hair Girl” also opens this week. He’ll be 102 in December, and he’s in the midst of his most productive period.

Both films have an absurd quality, like droll stories told by experienced leg-pullers. “Wild Grass” operates in some strange zone between surrealism and dream, and if you’re in the right mood, it will amuse you greatly.

A random incident sets the gears in motion: Marguerite (Sabine Azema), whose head is surrounded by an aura of frizzy blood-red hair, has her purse stolen. Georges (Andre Dussollier, a veteran actor playing a heavy in the current “Micmacs”) finds her wallet in a parking garage nearby.

Georges becomes transfixed by the clues in her wallet — especially the part about her being a dentist and an aviatrix, like Amelia Earhart (who was not, however, a dentist, to my knowledge). This is the point where he should simply contact her and, perhaps, get to know her.

But, as in a dream, one’s intentions are repeatedly and maddeningly unfulfilled, even though logic would indicate what the simplest route would be. A series of strange phone calls, confrontations and near-stalking episodes mark the “romance” of these two characters — to the indifferent reaction of Georges’ wife (Anne Consigny, “A Christmas Tale”).

When Georges talks to a policeman (Mathieu Amalric, “Quantum of Solace”) about the theft, we glean that he has something in his past to hide from the law. Along with other questions raised during the ditzy storyline, this one will not necessarily be answered before the fade-out.

“Wild Grass” goes by its own rules. It even has a quite wonderful narrator, who would be of more use if he were sure of his story — unfortunately, he becomes confused in the middle of imparting important bits of information.

The film has a cheap, gossamer look that makes it look as though it had been sprinkled with pixie dust. Somehow this adds to the surreal humor that abounds here.

The movie is for a small audience: Those who can enjoy a plot that deliberately goes off the rails. The loose ends aren’t merely left hanging, they’re merrily sent off in all directions, and that’s part of the film’s charm. If that sounds like fun, you’ll appreciate the jest of an octogenarian artist with a ripe sense of life’s absurdities.

“Wild Grass”

Octogenarian filmmaker Alain Resnais (“Last Year at Marienbad”) offers a wacky little bauble about two people who keep failing to come together over the issue of a stolen wallet, even though they are fascinated with each other. This absurdist enterprise will be appreciated by audiences who don’t care about having loose ends tied up — leaving them untied is part of the point. In French, with English subtitles.

Rated: PG for subject matter

Showing: Varsity

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