French filmmaker Alain Resnais Is Still Turning ’Em Out at 91
It’s difficult to imagine an American filmmaker making anything as abstruse as this latest film by Alain Resnais, the 91 year old French director who came to prominence in 1961 with the widely acclaimed Last Year at Marienbad. Integrating elements of two works by French dramatist Jean Anouilh—Eurydice and Cher Antoine— Resnais’ You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet is a cinematic reflection on classic themes: time, love, death and the fluid relationship between reality and illusion. If you require a good story or if you’re a filmgoer who hasn’t much patience for abstractions, this isn’t for you. If you’ll settle for a few strong scenes well-played by some of France’s finest film actors, you might want to check it out.
The film, which features honest-to-goodness eminent French actors like Anne Consigny, Lambert Wilson, and Michel Piccoli playing themselves, starts out with a group of people being notified of the death of a mutual friend (the news is somewhat tediously repeated verbatim to each one), then summoned to his home for a reading of his will and a memorial in his honor. On their arrival, we learn that the dead man is a celebrated playwright—a fictional one, unlike the people playing his mourners—named Antoine d’Anthac (Denis Podalydès), who apparently earned lots of money that he spent on numerous grand houses and young mistresses. We also discover that the people attending this event have all performed in this writer’s play, Eurypides. A distinguished man (Andrzej Seweryn)—is he lawyer, caretaker, friend?—ushers the attendees into a cold, cavernous room to view an after-death video of the deceased man, in which he requests that they view an adaptation of this work by a new company, and assess its quality. As they watch, d’Anthac’s friends and associates recall their own performances in those same roles, and, in a kind of series of dream sequences, begin to act them out. Several of these re-enactments are the highlight of the film. There’s one particularly potent performance by 60-something duo Sabine Azema and Pierre Arditi as Eurydice and Orpheus, respectively. His age notwithstanding, Arditi exudes a magnetic screen presence as a jealous lover who struggles to overcome his impulse to turn around, but is defeated in the end by his overwhelming urge to search Eurydice’s eyes for proof of her fidelity.
Unfortunately, Resnais’ screenplay, which incorporates a predictable twist and then comes to a surprise abrupt ending, is not nearly as compellingly as some of these scenes are. Rather, it registers as something of an abstract intellectual exercise by a veteran artist, more to be respected for the enduring skill it displays than the story it spins.
Film review by Deborah Klugman.
You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet is now playing at the Laemmle Music Hall 3. It opens July 6, 2013 at Laemmle’s Playhouse 7 and Town Center 5.