CHRISTOPHE JEAUFFROY, © 2008 F COMME FILM/SONY PICTURES CLASSICS
Like its title vegetation, Alain Resnais’s Wild Grass has a free-sprouting nature, unaffected in manner and developing as it will, and as such has too little self-regard to be one of those movies about movie love. The work of an 87-year-old who has enjoyed a rich life making films, and has enriched the world immeasurably by making film history, it can afford to take its own condition as cinema for granted and concentrate on other matters: the difficult calculations involved in buying satisfactory shoes, for example, or the touching failure of dentists to establish a reassuring ambience in their offices.
Mostly the film focuses on a blind flirtation–or rather a blind hope for flirtation–or, no, a blind refusal of flirtation, as played out in the nicer suburbs of Paris between two people who are old enough to know better. Resnais’s theme, in other words, is the capacity for human desire, unprompted, to leap toward the skies, and in leaping to trip over its feet. And so, even though Wild Grass is utterly nonchalant about its status as a movie, it makes sense that the two main characters, full of beautifully evanescent fantasy, should finally meet outside a movie theater.
The events that lead them to this meeting are simple to relate, though also as unruly as the grass that springs through cracks in the pavement. Marguerite Muir (Sabine Azéma), a woman with challenging feet, goes to the Rue de Rivoli to buy shoes. After bringing a wanly smiling clerk close to exhaustion, she exits the shop with her purchase (which is identical to the pair she was wearing) and falls victim to a purse snatcher. For reasons Marguerite may not understand, or even try to articulate to herself, she does not report the theft; but within hours, her discarded wallet is discovered in the parking garage of a shopping center miles from the Rue de Rivoli. Georges Palet (André Dussollier) sees it lying next to a tire of his car, reaches down for it, stops and then completes the circuit of chance by picking it up. Why did he hesitate? He might not know; but he is quick to articulate to himself an impression of the owner, based on the tantalizing scraps of information in the wallet. He will hand it in to the police, of course. He must. But first, shouldn’t he call Marguerite Muir? How should the conversation go?
An impetuous man, outwardly shambling, settled and middle-aged but inwardly buffeted by an uncontrollable imagination, thinks he has encountered, or ought to encounter, a not-quite-unknown woman. The woman, who is literally flighty in her instincts (by avocation, she’s a pilot), is nevertheless indecisive by nature and grounded by a timidity that keeps her, in her middle years, describable as pert. She has a cloud of bright red hair and a flared, piped, double-breasted coat that makes her look like the Little Prince; but day by day she works behind a white mask in her dental office, where the one pathetic hint of expansiveness is the blue-sky pattern of her wallpaper. As for Georges, he is a man with a good car, an excellently furnished house and a fine-featured, cultivated, infinitely solicitous wife at least a dozen years his junior; and yet for some time he has been stalking about like Lemmy Caution, with security guards following him with their eyes, ominous music welling up behind him and thoughts proper to a desperate ex-convict growling through his mind.