Très Typicalby Kavish Chetty / 16.05.2011
I don’t know whether Alain Resnais is dead, but if he isn’t, he’ll probably die within fifteen minutes of you reading this article, because he must be bloody old by now. It was 1959, somewhere around the inaugural moment of the French New-Wave, when Resnais’ first film – Hiroshima Mon Amour – was released. And throughout his early “oeuvre” (when in France…) including the more interrogatory Last Year at Marienbad with its frightening geometries, meaning floated free of image in superb and elegant ways. At its centre were strange ways of fashioning the problem of memory – its relationship to desire, connection; the ordering role it plays in the human experience.
Six decades of cinema left in his wake, Resnais is a lavished cultural icon of France. And once you’ve have a certain string of avant-garde accomplishments inked onto your curriculum vitae, your audiences tend to give you artistic reign to create any old bullshit you want. Why? The emperor’s meat and two veg are out for all to gawp at. There is something about a director like Resnais and many others like him, which demands to be taken seriously, in fact taken poetically, regardless of its shape, texture or pleasures. He’s established himself in the past and therefore has earned the right to be taken seriously. It’s a phenomenon which mostly keeps young iconoclasts with premature ideas in their proper place – namely, a metaphysical garbage can called “shut the fuck up”. But this mechanism works in reverse as well. It works on the powers of pretention and prestige, to excuse the most maddening anomaly under the sign of “genius”.
Resnais is French. We’re talking about a nation of directors so utterly tranfixed by themselves, they created auteur theory to sideline everyone else involved in the multifaceted production of cinema, vaunting themselves onto the pedestal of exclusive creative intellect. This positive fetish of self is what cruises quite nonchalantly onto the scene when we get to Resnais’ latest, Wild Grass. To speak of the narrative or even a narrative here is a slippery business, because the film elicits one hundred minutes of raised eyebrows, chasmic mouths and sideways glances. It is nearly impossible to figure out what is going on, and the parts that do have some kind of vague internal logic add together to make a kind of grumbling “what the fuck was the point of that?” In flashes then: a woman with wild red hair and an obsession with shoes; an old man with a murky, never-revealed history; a tentative and dangerous affair set to an over-emphasised soundtrack by Mark Snow; and a conclusion in which an anonymous girl asks, “Mommy, if I was a kitten, would I be able to eat kitten munchies?”
That last comes the final, climactic indulgence in a film otherwise totally incoherent.
Another journalist mused that perhaps all the eccentricity was due to cultural kooks of the French that don’t translate during the displacement over to the Labia theatre. This is really an interesting proposition, and one that raises a practical graveyard of soundly sleeping questions. How are we, exactly, supposed to understand art that in any sense has a pretense to belong to another? Before even attempting to stage this question in a fleshier manner, it’s probably wise to point out that if this film represents Gallic affectation, then the French are clearly a nation of lunatics, and we should probably turn their Republic into Arkham Asylum, and keep them locked up in their fantasy of strange personalities. But seriously: is the idea of a gulf between art and audience sufficient to critique our critical faculties and their potential? To what extent can I be said to have properly appreciated Rushdie, then? Or to what extent have you properly appreciated Borges? Are their limits to our understanding and can we be criticised for them? The end of this logic should lead us to refashion our thinking: all meaning is created in a particular situation, through a set of negotiated values and ideas through which a thing begins to take on a familiar shape.
“Everything is excusable, except bad taste,” says the narrator. I would be motivated to say the film has aesthetic charms, but the ones it does have to swing about are few and summon the worn-out vocabulary of visual tricks (even crash-zooming at one point). The film can be said to explore how mundane events can lead to adventure; how life itself reacts to cinema – becoming sometimes a romance, sometimes a murder mystery, shifting and morphing with the supplies it has at its disposal to aim towards the meaningful. Capitalism surged through the country and shut up all of the independent cinemas in this city except for the Labia Theatre, and now it’s a kind of melancholy hangout – its the last place you’ll find financially unrecuperative films, and you’ll sit in lonely theatres eating popcorn from brown paper bags. We have to wonder why this film actually came here in the first place, and who or what precisely Resnais’ market is?
All in all, a strange and narcissistic tale that encourages thought less about itself as a film, and more about disjointed narratives, cultures of prestige and contexts of viewing.
Wild Grass (Les Herbes Folle) runs at the Labia Theatre from the 13th of May.