There is nothing clear or particularly direct about Wild Grass, save that it's obviously the work of a true artist. This is a movie that could not have been made by committee or a visionless hired hand. It's too wacky. Plus, the mastery of beautiful color, image, sound—and the confident audacity with which it is all employed in the service of story—bear the clear marks of a great director with intense vision. But even great directors make severe missteps.
Wild Grass is the latest picture from the veteran Alain Resnais, 88, one of contemporary cinema's most treasured artists. A member of the group of filmmakers in the 1960s who pioneered the French New Wave (a crucial film movement in the history of the medium), Resnais was behind such psychological masterpieces as Night and Fog (1955), Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), and Last Year at Marienbad (1961). More than half a century after those great films, Resnais is still churning out new, challenging work. But his latest, Wild Grass—though technically expert and full of refined craft—never quite comes together in any sort of satisfying way.
Based on the novel L'incident by French novelist Christian Gailly, Wild Grass has a simple enough story: A middle-aged woman named Marguerite (Sabine Azema) loses her wallet, which is found by a middle-aged man, Georges (Andrew Dussollier). Georges returns the wallet to the local police station where Marguerite eventually picks it up. During this process, both Georges and Marguerite become curious about the other person, and wonder whether the incident of the lost and found wallet might be fate trying to bring them together.
Though described as a story about "giving and acknowledging thanks," Wild Grass mostly ends up being a loopy, dream-like, extremely French ode to "my life to live" existentialism. It's about what would happen if two middle-aged people—both relatively stable and successful—decided to suddenly upturn their lives in the name of seizing the day and embracing the opportunities of life. Oh, and it also has something to do with the metaphor of wild grass—of people who follow totally unreasonable impulses "like those seeds that make the most of cracks in the asphalt and grow where they are least expected to."
Georges and Marguerite have no real excuse for their crazy, impulse-fueled dive into the sort of reckless behavior that will likely be their undoing (and indeed, is). George has a beautiful house with blue trim, a gorgeous and kind wife (Anne Consigny), and two lovely adult children. Marguerite is a wealthy dentist with an awesome apartment, some truly wild red hair, and a sweet yellow sportscar. Did you notice all the colors? That's because these characters inhabit worlds that are dripping with sumptuous colors and environments with inviting textures and vitality. Who would be unsatisfied in such a world?
Perhaps the characters are frustrated and "looking for more" because all the beauty, art, and thrill of their everyday experiences don't add up to anything that ultimately connects. It's all just fragments. There's no overarching meaning or purpose—so of course when a wallet brings a bit of fateful (or random) mystery into their lives, it's embraced with headlong passion. But meaning is not found.