A Lifetime Achievement Award received at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival suggests that the best work from 60 year veteran French director Alain Resnais lies in his illustrious past. Wild Grass (Les Herbes folles), a lively romantic comedy that premiered at the 2009 Cannes Festival before traveling to the Toronto International Film Festival and the New York Film Festival, says otherwise. The story of an unexpected romance between a couple (Resnais regulars Sabine Azéma and André Dussollier) that meet over a lost wallet, Wild Grass is colorful, smart and brought to vivid life via the rich performances. Wild Grass, an Italian-French co-production, comes to U.S. theaters in late June from Sony Pictures Classics, around the same time a long lost behind-the-scenes documentary about Resnais' 1961 drama Last Year at Marienbad surfaces. While the two films qualify summer 2010 as something of a Resnais celebration, the box office prospects for mature foreign language films remain modest at best, even when involving a legendary master like Resnais.
Georges Palet (André Dussollier) is an elderly husband and father of two whose life changes when he finds a red wallet tossed beneath the wheel of his car. A photo of the wallet's owner, a single dentist named Marguerite Muir (Sabine Azéma), intrigues Georges so much he quickly decides to meet her. The comedy unfolds as the unlikely romance between Georges and Marguerite takes shape and they discover some things in common.
At first glance, Wild Grass may appear frivolous compared to 1959's Hiroshima mon amour or landmark documentary, Night and Fog, but Resnais has displayed great variety of storytelling throughout his expansive career and proven over and over again that not all of his films need be as experimental or as serious as Last Year at Marienbad. (Have you watched his fun period musical Not on the Lips?) Based on Christian Gailly's novel, The Incident, from a faithful screenplay by Laurent Herbiet and Alex Reval, Wild Grass treats its fascinating, complex, adult characters with warmth, respect and also intelligence. Still, there's no denying the great humor throughout the film.
Resnais continues to work with a regular team of actors and their intimate knowledge of what works best for one another shows throughout the film. André Dussollier puts his magnificent, velvety voice to great use as the somewhat mysterious André. Mathieu Amalric provides some of the film's funniest scenes as an annoying police officer. The best performance belongs to Sabine Azéma (Resnais' real-life companion) who brings the lovely Marguerite to life.
Digital photography from cameraman Eric Gautier brings the film a modern look, and production designer Jacques Saulnier makes striking use of bold color in many of the film's scenes. More importantly, Resnais' storytelling is in top form. Turning 88 this June, he's an inspiration to us all.
Aided by critical praise and a small but devoted following of specialty film buffs, Wild Grass will exceed the modest $134,636 of Resnais' 2007 IFC release Private Fears in Public Places, but will likely fall below the year's foreign-language leader, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. For Sony Pictures Classics, which releases the film stateside in late June, being in the Resnais business brings plenty of prestige but also plenty of theatrical challenges.
Along with Agnès Varda and Chris Marker, Resnais make up the Left Bank wing of the French New Wave and their place in film history is both central and secure. In fact, it can be argued that Resnais never needed to make another film after Hiroshima mon amour and Last Year at Marienbad, but Wild Grass makes one glad that he remains so prolific.
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Cast: Sabine Azéma, Andre Dussollier, Anne Consigny, Emmanuelle Devos, Mathieu Amalric and Michel Vuillermoz
Director: Alain Resnais
Screenplay: Lauret Herbiet and Alex Reval
Producer: Jean-Louis Livi
Rating: PG for some thematic material, language and brief smoking.
Running time: 104 min.
Release date: June 25 NY/LA