Wild Grass (Les herbes folles)

France (2009) Dir. Alain Resnais

Marguerite Muir (Sabine Azéma) a single, strong willed middle aged woman who has her handbag snatched while out shopping. Her wallet is discarded in an underground car park which it is found by Georges Palet (André Dussollier), promptly handing it in to the police but imagines a wild fantasy relationship with Marguerite stemming from this, which he plans to make a reality.

With a career spanning seven decades and a number of highly praised films to his name, including Hiroshima, mon amour, 91 year-old Alain Resnais continues to make films to this day and show little signs of stopping soon. This 2009 outing is based on the novel L’Incident by Christian Gailly, after being invited to make a film with producer Jean-Louis Livi. Despite being a rather overripe 87 at the time, there are no obvious indications that this was being made by a man in his twilight years, displaying a cheeky if often bemusing and eccentric youthful pace.

The premise is, and should be, regarded as quite a deviant one, when you consider that it is based around a man who basically tries to stalk his way into the affections of a mystery woman he knows only from an ID card. Georges’s motives are never made clear as to why he would become so smitten with Marguerite when he has a loyal wife Suzanne (Anne Consigny, who should be familiar to many as Claire, the mother of zombie Camille in TV chiller The Returned) and two adult children. Georges is in his 50’s and unemployed so he has plenty of time in his hands which may be his way of breaking the status quo with something a little exciting for him. However it soon becomes obsession for Georges and he begins to feel as though Marguerite owes him a meeting for being a good Samaritan.

Despite early hesitations and obvious repellence to Georges unorthodox and decidedly creepy method of surreptitious wooing, Marguerite begins to become equally intrigued by this mystery do gooder. Soon, the busy dentist is arranging her day around trying to find out what Georges looks like in what results in some reciprocal stalking. Amazingly Suzanne is somewhat casual and accepting of her husband’s fantasy infidelity, even though the police have cautioned Georges for his actions (a rare comic turn from Mathieu Amalric and Michel Vuillermoz makes this scene a hoot), while Suzanne’s partner at the dental clinic Josépha (Emmanuelle Devos) is less than charitable.

If you were expecting some domestic explosions as result then you’ll be disappointed. The whole thing is totally civil, despite initial reservations and everyone seems to get along with each other. Suzanne may not be aware of whether Marguerite is infatuated with Georges or not, Suzanne takes her husband’s obsession calmly in her stride, accepting the object of his apparent desire with the – slightly reserved – warmth of any old acquaintance. Are we to expect the end of a marriage or a mutually sanctioned ménage a trois? Resnais – and presumably Christian Gailly – isn’t very forthcoming with any definitive answers but we are left with enough of a tease for us to put two and two together – although the answer may come up as five.

Resnais is careful not to present this tale as sleazy or depraved but Georges cannot be viewed as sympathetic or in any way a smooth operator who is introducing us to new ways to win over your fancy woman from a safe distance. Instead he just comes across as…weird. Perhaps in the novel it makes more sense and André Dussollier does a great job in conveying the various stages of uncertainty and wavering confidence in Georges but the viewer never truly gets a grips on how and why he would so consumed with a complete stranger who, without being rude, doesn’t seem to offer him much than he already has in his life. But life is odd like that.

Tackling the role of Marguerite is Sabine Azéma, Resnais’s current life partner some 27 years his junior, so presumably it is her mane of wild red hair that is the attractive quality to galvanise Georges into being unfaithful to Suzanne. Marguerite is an interesting character in that after the bag snatching she preferred to go home and take a cold bath and leave contacting the police until the next day. She is also a pilot which actually doesn’t really factor too much into the plot except that Georges father wanted to be a pilot – and to give us a moment of awkward mirth involving Georges and his trousers zipper.       

Resnais, on the insistence of Gaily, didn’t collaborate with the novelist on the film’s script giving Resnais free reign to do what he pleases. The evidence speaks for itself. That is not to say this is a bad film but one often finds themselves wondering just what the point is if the intention isn’t to glorify stalking as a suitable method of getting to know someone. There is enough of a comedic undertone to suggest we don’t take this seriously but this is countered by a slight sense that perhaps the film already is taking itself too seriously on our behalf.

The fact that Resanis is still making films in his advanced years and is still taking chances with a clear subversive streak that many of his younger counterparts would kill for, Wild Grass won’t be seen as a classic entry into his extensive catalogue and may not earn him many new fans but it just about remains on the right side of quirky to provide some form of intriguing if not entirely relatable entertainment.