by Richard von Busack
THE HISTORY of a seriously odd mallard, Wild Grass is Alain Resnais’ leisurely, cryptic satire on the extremes of male pride. Based on Christian Gailly’s novel The Incident, it concerns characters who are as much mysteries to themselves as they are to us. Georges (André Dussolier, sort of a debonair version of Ed Begley Jr.) is a 60ish suburbanite who finds a lady’s wallet. He fixates on her: a passion that demands not just acknowledgment, but serious respect. Georges is a married man, but his younger wife, Suzanne (Anna Cosigny), evinces no signs of jealousy, only a bemused sense of possession, unshakable by any rogue feelings on her husbands’ part. She is as calm as the concrete, even as her husband’s passion bursts through the cracks like crabgrass (the film’s title is explained by just such an image).
Georges’ unusual love object is a middle-aged dentist, Marguerite (Sabine Azéma, the Christian secretary in Private Fears in Public Places), a carrot-top who flies planes as a hobby. This detail captivates Georges; in his mind, Marguerite begins to resemble the image of a famous hero aviatrix of the 1930s. He amplifies his persistence—and vents his anger, when she refuses to meet with him.
Edouard Baer’s urbane narration keeps this pleasurable experiment remote as well as comedic, even if there are static moments of slow deliberation, off-putting fancifulness and a family meal that is mostly there to show just how settled Georges is. Wild Grass is the story of a man working himself up into the role of a great lover, a man of dark proud passion. What he really is, is a duffer. In one final moment of excruciating embarrassment, he resembles Leslie Nielsen in a slapstick role.
Just as Georges represents hopeless love, Marguerite represents the color red; Wild Grass is an abstraction of what movies do. If you don’t count the Mathieu Almaric’s hilarious turn as a cop taking it easy for the rest of us, the film’s highlight is the evolution of Marguerite into a cinematic love object. The frizzy yet chic woman haunts a street of glowing crimson, in which the centerpiece is one of those lovely, bijou-size revival movie theaters they have in Paris, bathed in Chinese red light.