You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet (Vous n’avez encore rien vu)

France (2012) Dir. Alain Resnais

A select group of well known French actors – Mathieu Amalric, Pierre Arditi, Sabine Azéma, Anne Consigny, Michel Piccoli, Jean-Noël Brouté, Anny Duperey, Hippolyte Girardot, Gérard Lartigau, Michel Robin, Lambert Wilson, Michel Vuillermoz and Jean-Chrétien Sibertin-Blanc (all playing themselves) – are all informed of the death of playwright Antoine d’Anthac (Denis Podalydès), along with a specific request in his will to have them all attend a special evening at his home.

Greeted by Antoine’s butler (Andrej Seweryn) they are shown into a projection room where a video clip introduced by Antoine himself airs, in which a young theatre group performs a rough rehearsal version of his famous play Eurydice, which the actors in attendance had all once played in themselves. Their task is to decide if the play is still worth putting on for modern audiences.

Alain Resnais has had quite the career with a number of classic films to his credit, including Hiroshima Mon Amour, Last Year in Marienbad and more recent fare as Wild Grass. At aged 89 at the time of filming, this loose combination of two plays by Jean Anouilh was said to be Resnais’s swan song, and indeed there is an air of finality about this philosophically thought provoking outing, and would have been exceptionally poignant had Resnais not followed in the footsteps of numerous other artists and performers and reneged on his retirement, with a new film due out later this year!

Back to this film and the concept is as gloriously pretentious as it sounds, upping the ante with its main story development. Once the rehearsal footage starts to play the elder thespians begin to recite the lines they know oh so well along with their younger on screen counterparts. Gradually they start actually performing the lines and eventually the focus shifts from the young cast to the much older cast, who are now reliving their former glories with their respective partners (despite being inappropriately aged for such distinctly young roles) with the projection room magically changing to the relevant settings and backgrounds of the play (a railway platform, a café, a hotel room, etc).

It’s a surreal development but one that works within the diegesis of the insular world Resnais has created for his gang of luvvies. The play Eurydice  is Anouilh’s take on the Greek tragedy and revolves around a love triangle between the titular heroine and her two lovers Orpheus and Matthew, which results in blackmail, a death, ghostly apparitions and the ruminations of whether love can continue in the afterlife.

Pretty heavy stuff and while it is acted out in a barebones warehouse with an abstract modern twist on the screen, the elder cast are acting it out for real, transporting themselves mentally and, for our benefit, physically into the realm of the play, inhabiting the characters as if it were their own lives.

The added twist of course that we have, at one point, three generations of characters performing for us; while the young Eurydice is flirting around on screen Anne Consigny is cavorting with her Orpheus (Lambert Wilson) interspersed with the activities of the first Eurydice and Orpheus (Sabine Azéma and Pierre Arditi).

Occasionally Resnais will tease us with some split screen action, juxtaposing two performances at once. Mathieu Amalric, as the mysterious onlooker M. Henri, must have worked two versions of the plays he is shown with both Orpheuses (not sure if that is the correct plural), again with side by side split screen representation, complete with subtle differences between the two performances.

How one defines this film and its objectives depends on how deeply you like to look into films for profound meanings. On the one hand this could be seen as Resnais, no stranger to the abstract and the prolix, having a final blow out while letting his friends and trusted performers – including his wife Sabine Azéma – join in the fun with some meaty roles while modernising a seventy year old play; or this Resnais in a reflective mood, using this story as a means of looking back over his career and pondering on his achievements and whether looking back is the best way to shape the present and future. The cast themselves experience something of an epiphany once the performance is over, leading to a rather confusing denouement that feels somewhat obvious in retrospect yet takes another odd turn for final act of defiance from Resnais.

These ideals some fanciful and wistful but for most audiences, the point is somewhat lost as the bulk of the film is the multi-telling of the play and thus the message is beneath the facade of watching a play-within-a-film concept. Keeping the play formula for the film representation means the play is rather stationary and one dimensional as well as verbose, and unless one is used to such highbrow fare will find this a slog to sit through.

For this writer, while the performances were superb and rich with honest emotion, with everyone clearly digging deep for Resnais, this was a bit slow and often tiresome despite the inventiveness of the material. This might sound blasphemous to some but reducing the play aspect and concentrating on the characters would have made for a more riveting watch.

The fact that You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet was proven to be a cheeky title for what was supposed to be Resnais final film robs it of some of the emotional resonance behind its sentiment and meaning. Resnais fans or those viewers with more highbrow tastes will revel in this extraordinary but indulgent and hard going outing while others will find the whole thing a rather tedious and confusing experience. Marmite cinema at its best.

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