Wild Grass isn't greener

Quasi-comedy lives down to French cinema's inaccessible reputation

The diversity of French cinema finds room for all kinds of movies, including fast-paced action flicks like District B13 and deliberately dumb comedies like the source for Dinner for Schmucks. When Francophobic moviegoers hear the words "French cinema," however, they probably imagine inscrutable films with emotionally remote characters making inexplicable choices through out a snail's-paced narrative. Alain Resnais' quasi-comedy Wild Grass lives down to French cinema's reputation for inaccessible wankery.

A major figure of the French New Wave, Resnais inspired passionate detractors, with his dream-like, elliptical Last Year at Marienbad earning inclusion in the 1978 book, The Fifty Worst Films of All Time. At 88, Resnais still has the ability to attract major actors and perplex international moviegoers.

After images of the titular shoots sprouting through sidewalk cracks, Wild Grass begins with a wonderful opening line for a short story: "She didn't have ordinary feet. Because of them, she went places where ordinary feet would never have taken her." Middle-aged dentist Marguerite buys some new footwear at a specialty boutique, only to have her purse stolen immediately thereafter. Resnais lingers on a dreamy shot of her yellow purse floating behind the thief, and withholds a glimpse of Marguerite's face, so we only focus on her shock of Sideshow Bob-like hair.

Later, aging, unemployed husband Georges (André Dussollier) recovers Marguerite's wallet and becomes fascinating by the different pictures of her it contains: Does the one with the sad expression, or the happy one, reflect her true personality? Georges obsesses over how to return the wallet and begins to stalk Marguerite, mailing her letters and leaving inappropriate phone messages. Dussollier brings Georges' mood swings to vivid life, although Wild Grass shrugs off his major psychological issues.

Marguerite initially recoils at Georges' behavior, but she also finds his unchecked emotions intriguing. Wild Grass strings us along for a bit as we wonder whether they'll ever meet face-to-face, and what kind of relationship they'll strike up. But it's impossible to invest almost any concern in the characters, since they vacillate so much and seldom behave realistically — or least, the way anyone you know in real life would, given the same circumstances. Two of France's most esteemed actors, Mathieu Amalric and Emmanuelle Devos, play supporting roles and prove way overqualified.

Resnais clearly enjoys giving the film little touches that hark back to classic movie styles, including the 20th Century Fox fanfare, or the mock-sinister camera angles of thrillers. Wild Grass includes charming touches, like a moment when amateur flyboys serenade weekend-aviatrix Marguerite. Thematically, Resnais seems to endorse the randomness of life and human interaction, but his plot points seem utterly arbitrary, particularly a third-act incident influenced by one fellow's unzipped fly. It's as if everything about Wild Grass wants to convince you that it has no consequence. If so, mission accomplished.