Cannes Check: Alain Resnais's 'You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet'

Posted by · 6:47 am · May 12th, 2012

The director: Alain Resnais (French, 89 years old)

The talent: No latter-day Resnais film comes without an ensemble of familiar French faces, with a number of regulars now forming the director’s own repertory company of sorts. Mathieu Amalric, Lambert Wilson, Sabine Azema, Anne Consigny and Pierre Arditi have all worked with Resnais before, many of them in his last feature “Wild Grass.” A more delayed reunion is with French veteran Michel Piccoli (acclaimed at last year’s fest for “We Have a Pope”), whose last outing with the director was 1966’s “La guerre est finie.” New to Resnais’s stable (I think, though it’s hard to keep track with such long filmographies) is arthouse stalwart Hippolyte Girardot.

Laurent Herbiet, who co-wrote “Wild Grass” with Resnais (and previously acted as his assistant director), once more shares sceenplay duty with the director — again writing under the nom de plume of Alex Reval. The director also maintains his collaboration with virtuoso cinematographer Eric Gautier (“Into the Wild,” “The Motorcycle Diaries”), who also shot fellow Competition entry “On the Road.” Oscar-nominated editor Herve de Luze (“The Pianist”) is also back on board, as is American composer Mark Snow, who is perhaps best known for his TV work. (He has 15 Emmy nominations, several of them for his very recognizable work on “The X Files.”)

The pitch: Alas, despite the promise of the title, Resnais has not delivered a biopic of Canadian soft-rock outfit Bachman-Turner Overdrive — but the French master’s latest intrigues nonetheless. Resnais began his career as a teenager in the theater — a medium he’s frequently visited in his later films, including adaptations of British playwright Alan Ayckbourn’s work and variations on the country’s traditional musical theater. His 18th feature film — arriving 53 years after his first, “Hirsoshima, Mon Amour,” premiered on the Croisette — continues that exploration, both adapting and paying postmodern tribute to the work of one of France’s leading dramatists, the late Jean Anouilh — specifically, his 1941 play “Eurydice,” itself a riff on the famed Orpheus-and-Eurydice myth set amid a travelling theater company in 1930s.

In Resnais’s film, the late playwright arranges, from beyond the grave, a gathering of every actor ever to have appeared in a production of “Eurydice” — for the purpose of watching a new performance thereof by a young theater troupe, and evaluating its meaning in the modern world. This twist of concentric performances sounds a typically playful yet academic premise for a new Resnais feature — as the appealingly loopy “Wild Grass” demonstrated, Resnais is content to make his audience chase his ideas in his dotage.

The pedigree: As the most senior director in Competition, Resnais’s pedigree should really go without saying: if the name is new to you, along with such iconic works as “Last Year in Marienbad” (which celebrated its golden anniversary last year), his latest probably isn’t the best place to start. This is Resnais’s sixth time in Competition at Cannes. That includes the ill-fated 1968 festival, which was finally cancelled due to the famous wave of countrywide protests and strikes in the spring of that year — unluckily for Resnais, the year his “Je t’aime, je t’aime” was tipped to win the Palme. Indeed, despite his lofty reputation, the Frenchman has never won the top prize: “My American Uncle” took the Grand Prix in 1980, while “Wild Grass” triggered a rare body-of-work prize from the jury three years ago.  

The buzz: At his age, any new film from Resnais is going to be treated as though it could be his last, which only increases the chatter around this one — which is already rather hotly fancied on its own terms. “Wild Grass” showed the director at his friskiest and most intellectually alive, and was warmly received by critics and audiences, and whispers from those in the know are that his latest maintains that form — though its chamber-y egghead premise may narrow its appeal somewhat. Certainly, no director enters this year’s Competition with more sentiment on his side.  

The odds: Could that sentiment be enough to land Resnais his long-awaited first Palme d’Or? Quite possibly, though there’s a risk the film, however strong, might be too esoteric to win over the jury as a whole. (He should have at least one strong sympathizer on the jury in the form of compatriot Emmanuelle Devos, who starred in “Wild Grass.”) The body-of-work award handed to him in 2009 rather dulls the possibility of an equivalent consolation prize this year: my hunch is that he’s either winning the big one or nothing at all.

For more views on movies, awards season and other pursuits, follow @GuyLodge on Twitter. 

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