Madaptation

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When a producer friend saw WILD GRASS, which proved to be the penultimate-but-one film from Alain Resnais, he was thoroughly baffled by the ending, which comes out of a left field so far left as to dissolve into a blur at your peripheral vision. He thought possibly Resnais had gone insane, was senile, or had otherwise lost the plot. As if the effect of that was likely to be a film that ambles along eccentrically, more or less making sense, only to dissolve into irrelevant nonsense in its final scene. My friend knows movies aren’t shot in sequence, generally, and that scripts are approved before filming, but he was so befuddled by the bizarreness of Resnais’ fade-out scene (involving characters who do not otherwise appear, and an exchange of dialogue not notably related to anything we’ve seen) that I think he was grasping for psychoneurological explanations since cinematic ones seemed inadequate.

Resnais himself had said in interviews (in which he appeared quite lucid) that he had used the ending of the book, though he admitted that it works differently on the page. I imagine there may be some descriptive text contextualising the sudden change of, well, everything. This seems in keeping with Resnais’ regular approach, one of extreme fidelity to the letter of the source, whether that be an original script or a book or play, while pursuing a directorial agenda which is free to explore things the author of the text may never have had in mind. I was told that Jules Feiffer was surprised to find, after an agreeable script collaboration on I WANT TO GO HOME, that the director did NOT want him around on the set. One also thinks of Resnais and Robbe-Grillet’s reflection that they each had different themes in mind when making LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD. Memory versus persuasion. Both can certainly be discerned at play in the finished film.

So I was forearmed with all this stuff when I saw the film and was fully expecting a gnomic denouement. I was not disappointed ~

As puzzles go, it’s a very charming one.

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The rest of the film was diverting but I wasn’t as delighted by it as by, say, YOU AIN’T SEEN NOTHING YET, which is truly experimental and moving and beautiful. I wasn’t all that keen on the constant soft focus, to be honest. It seemed to merge with the video look and Mark Snow’s score to create a slight patina of cheapness. I liked the actors, particularly Andre Dussolier as some kind of possible maniac (his internal monologues keep reverting to the idea of killing people in order to escape whatever minor social embarrassment he’s facing) and there was something amusing about Mathieu Amalric poping up in an insignificant role as a policeman. One or two scenes are pretty hilarious, often because of Resnais’s inventive and peculiar editing and framing strategies.

I’m hoping I’ll get a chance to watch his final film, THE LIFE OF RILEY, in time for this year’s Late Movies Blogathon in December, though I’ve never been very keen on Alan Ayckbourn. Such prejudices exist to be challenged.

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5 Responses to “Madaptation”

  1. Wild Gras also boasts one of the best scores ever written for Resnais by his frequent musical collaborator “Mark Snow” (aka. Marty Fulterman, a comrade of mine at Communist Martyrs High, class of ’64)

  2. I like your use of The Eyes of Romy Schneider.

  3. (Good old Clouzot!)

    I loved Snow’s music for The X Files which was, financially speaking, cheap as chips but very evocative. I’m not as keen on his Wild Grass score but I like the other Resnais ones I’ve heard.

  4. James S Says:

    Maybe it’s because I was expecting the film to be insane, or maybe because I was expecting the mise en scene to be the work of a much older man (an ageist assumption I know), but the film blew me away. I was bouncing off the wall for hours afterwards, fizzing. I found it fresher then films made by people 1/3 of Resnais’s age. It was like when I saw Schepisi’s Six Degrees of Separation or Love Streams- it’s like a whole new genre, in this case “irrational comedy of manners” Why can’t more people make films in this genre?

    Resnais compared the narrative to a jazz improv, and that’s what I loved. Not in the sense that it’s random, or even that it changes stories, but the wonderful way the tone shifts and the characters change irrationally

    It also reminded me of that Hawks quote about “The Big Sleep” about how this film signals left then makes a right. Wild Grass keeps defying audiences expectations for where the plot is going, what the characters are going to do

    The ending did flummox me the first time, and I’m glad I was watching it on DVD rather than in the cinema, or at a film festival so I could re-watch it. Throughout the film, we as an audience build our assumptions based on the narration and images, and then wrong footed. On those last scenes we’re left to build one last assumption. I assumed that in a characteristic fit of irrationality Sabine Azéma’s aviatrix had crashed the plane and they were now going to be reincarnated (perhaps as cats-the most irrational of animals). But that could be as wrong as my other assumptions throughout the film

    I also want to see Life of Riley soon, because it seems with this and “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” Resnais was on one hell of a roll. Along with George Miller he seems to be one of these directors who stayed vibrant. Until he died

  5. Jim Dale in a recent interview: “You know what they say when you’re my age: Don’t buy any green bananas.”

    Yes, I figured the probable deaths of the main characters were connected to that suggestion of reincarnation and maybe even that their departing consciousnesses passed through the child’s mind on their way to wherever they were going and triggered off the thought she gave voice to.

    And I do like that you have to do that much thinking to find a way to make sense of it.

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