Friday, August 27, 2010

LES HERBES FOLLES (WILD GRASS): MOVIE REVIEW


Cast: André Dussollier, Sabine Azéma, Anne Consigny, Emmanuelle Devos
Director: Alain Resnais
Runtime: 104 min.
Language: French
Country: France
Verdict: An interesting little short story, which like any good short story, makes you wonder.
Genre: Romance, Drama, Comedy

        I’ve been reading Calvin and Hobbes these past few days. Outside of a few glances through the strips in newspapers I knew precious little about the tiny kid and his, well, tiger. A good friend of mine was kind enough to gift me a book, and as I discover this little kid now, I’m almost discovering myself, often with side-splitting humor and often with a strange sense of sadness. I’m seeing Calvin everywhere. I know, I’m a little late to where you already are and what you already felt. Ah, that realization. There’s a great observation from Calvin’s father when he has to assume his responsibility of being the pillar of strength of the family when their house’s stolen. He remarks to himself, and his wife – I don’t think I would’ve been in such a hurry to reach adulthood if I had known the whole thing was going to be ad-libbed. I think that’s profound. And it also makes me think of the Tom Perotta novel Little Children.
        I wonder if the titular wild grass in Mr. Resnais’ Les Herbes Folles is that little wildness in us that never ever dies. That little child we never outgrow. We might hide him for a while, you know prune him and all, discipline him, but that guy’s never gone right? Maybe we’re all kids who’re supposed to act like adults. I don’t know, and I suspect I’m pretty much ad-libbing my adulthood. I look at Georges Palet (Mr. Dussollier), an old man in his fifties, an old man whose wrinkled features run as if they existed on the bark of a tree, an old man whom you might call handsome, an old man who might be the veteran of many an adventure, an old man you would wish to age like, and I see the little Calvin within him wanting to break out most desperately. Maybe that’s me, or maybe that’s Calvin and Hobbes. Monsieur Palet wants to feel that rush and passion of adolescence once again. He sure does know better, and there are moments in the film when he advises himself to curb his instincts, but then they are called instincts for a reason. These instincts, you can curb them, but they do have a tendency to grow somewhere else. Like wild grass.
        A stereotypical passionate romance, sweeping Titanic-style, is sure a fascination for many. This is kind of romance where you want to be in love, and who it is doesn’t really matter. For others, it is the stuff you want to mock from far away, and yell – Sissy! Might be stuff of sour grapes, or might be a case of hubris. With Calvin you never know which. With Les Herbes Folles and between its daydreaming innocent protagonist and the mocking narrative (or is it?) – from the exaggerated visual style of elaborate zooms and pans to the 20th-Century Fox fanfare – you never really know which. The old man finds a purse near the tyre of his car parked in the shopping mall. He picks it up, and runs through the license and passport, and sees that the person is a woman, and quite probably his age. A little love story probably runs through his heart, there and then, one even he probably he is unaware of. All he knows is that life owes him something. Monsieur Palet is already in love. Wallet in his hand, he looks at two young girls dressed in fashionable clothes passing by, and his adult version is filled with utter contempt. You should realize that Mr. Resnais’ film has the charms and rhythm and wit and observations of a short story. Even the freedom.
        At home Monsieur Palet has a devoted wife. He’s been married to her for thirty years. She’s Suzanne (Ms. Consigny), and when you look at her you almost mistake her for his daughter. She’s aware of his instincts. As the story grows, and incidents pile up, we realize she’s aware of his behavior to bring women home. Is she his wife anymore, or does she see him as her child? I don’t know, but this is an incredibly brave woman, a woman with a large heart, someone I would love to meet and know more of, and she quietly encourages her husband’s pursuits to find reasons to get up in the morning. I think that is a good place to leave you to discover the rest of this short story.
        And a good time to come back to what bothers me most about it all, about Calvin and about Monsieur Palet. About what causes me often to be sad while I read Calvin? And what caused me to be disturbed by Monsieur Palet’s romantic advances towards Ms. Margaret Muir (Ms. Azéma), the woman in the passport. You see, at some level, even Norman Bates was a child, and maybe even Ed Gein. I start worrying about little Calvin, and I worry about a lot of Calvins who exist in my life. Monsieur Palet is lost within his dreams. He obviously has a past, a past he’s quite worried of, but one isn’t sure if the film itself is attaching any importance to it or merely plays it down as unnecessary fear on his part. You know, like when we were kids and when we broke the glass and we thought that was the end of the world. Monsieur Palet is probably stupid. But when does fear start becoming paranoia? When does a soft focus image filled with highly saturated colors and all the brightness in a world where sun shines with great pride become grotesque? I’m not sure if Les Herbes Folles is merely a romantic comedy, or a psychiatrist explaining it to us how the world might appear to a person desperately looking for romance, perhaps inadvisably. You see, he slashes the tyres of her car. His love is almost dictatorial in nature. At first she doesn’t give a hoot in hell about him, but she changes. Out of love, I don’t think so. Out of guilt probably. And then, out of ego. Guilt is a profound emotion, and the causative emotion for many actions and many emotions. But it feels to me such actions and such emotions might have a negative ring to them. There’s just something there that doesn’t feel sound, that doesn’t feel good. This is a romance built upon what we perceive to be negative traits – ego, guilt. There’s something here that feels sad. And make no mistake, guilt and ego are the most basic of all emotions. Calvin had them too, you know. And that is what I’m unable to get my hands around. Neither I guess is Les Herbes Folles. I think, at 87, even Mr. Resnais is ad-libbing. He’s probably saying we all are.

Note: Here is an interesting little interview.

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