Confession: I ain’t seen but 17 minutes of You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet. I couldn’t stand to see “nothin'” for another moment.
I have mistakenly told festival-goers that this is Resnais’ last film. I thought he had died, but he is still among us. However, he is 91 years old, so it could be his last movie.
I have not seen all of Resnais’ movies (there’s beaucoup), but I can say I did like Night and Fog (Nuit and Brouillard).
But Last Year at Marienbad (L’Année Dernière à Marienbad) is just what its last syllable tells you it is. I remember seeing because it looked beautiful, and I knew its star Delphine Seyrig’s wardrobe was created by Chanel.
Unfortunately, while the movie was beautiful to look at, the dialogue was so pretentious and intentionally enigmatic, that I filed this director with Jean-Luc Godard and Léos Carax, among others, in the category I call Les Prétentieux. Despite the French codification, membership is also extended to non-French directors who qualify.
I can’t describe this movie better than onepotato2 at imdb:
Yet, Resnais has his fans. I was describing You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet to a movie connoisseur at the festival and my description- snark free, mind you- only enhanced his desire to see it.
The seventeen minutes I endured and described to the taste-impaired fellow, should be sufficient to either whet your appetite or put 115 minutes of your life to better use.
The first red flag appears in the credits: “Based on plays Eurydice and Cher Antoine ou L’amour raté (Dear Antoine or Lost Love) by Jean Anouilh.”
Just being reminded of that familiar name sounded off alarm bells in my head. I remember suffering through his work back in high school. That a movie being adapted from a play isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but basing one on two plays is just asking for trouble.
Ensuite, the movie opens with the same scene repeated with different actors. Repeating the same lines and the same scene over and over are hallmarks of the films of Les Prétentieux.
A cast of the most famous actors in France, only one of whom, Lambert Wilson, might be recognized outside of Gaul from his work in The Matrix, receive a phone call from an unseen voice. They are shown successivly receiving the same call, with the same words.
Each actor’s call is shown in double silhouette, a visual concept now most often seen in Will Ferrell memes:
Each star that you likely don’t recognize is told that a close friend/colleague has died and that his last wish was that they all come to his château in Peilon near the Riviera.
They arrive at the château in curiously choreographed, neatly timed intervals and marvel at the foyer, each positioned perfectly and unnaturally to fill the frame to fit the director’s tableau. None had ever visited this property of the many their friend owned.
The stars have matching expressions of awe as they crane their necks taking in their surroundings. It is stunningly beautiful.
But when the butler/caller/concierge leads the stars up the curved, banister-free staircase to show them to their rooms, I reinterpreted their expression of awe to “WTF?”
The walls are richly decorated in a faux-rococo (that’s fun to say, n’est-ce pas?), but then, when the rotunda is revealed, the décor abruptly changes its theme from “elegant château” to “little boy’s bedroom;” a teal/turquoise background is littered with white stars, five pointed stars, just like the ones one sees in the sky.
French stars clearly manage their egos better than their Hollywood counterparts as there was no reality show fighting over who got which room. The guy I’m simply going to refer to as the butler leads the pack of movie stars downstairs and asks them to take a seat among the oversized leather couches that someone has quietly moved into the foyer in the meantime. Okay….
The butler explains that their friend’s death was an accident that occurred while he was cleaning his gun; he makes a point of clarifying that the death was not a suicide. Okay….
Then he begins to play a tape their deceased friend recorded for his famous friends wherein he admits he knows he will not be present/alive when it is shown. Was Clue this abtruse? Because, by this point, it looks like this movie is Clue à la française.
The dead guy is the playwright whose name is not Jean Anouilh, but wrote his same plays with his same titles. Okay….
He was sent a tape by an amateur theater group who want permission to perform one or two of them, I don’t remember. Since all the stars in the room have at one point acted in the requested play(s), he asks them to make the judgment call. Okay….
The taped performance looks like no effort was put into it at all. There’s no set, they’re performing in a rusting industrial, filthy space, and are wearing no costumes. Somehow, the dead guy didn’t find this insulting. Nor was he insulted by the poor acting on display. (Or maybe he was, and that’s what killed him.)
As the famous actors watch the play, they begin to recite the lines of the characters they played simultaneously with their screen counterparts. Then, the famous actors being re-enacting the scenes among themselves as the same scenes are being played on the tape. The simultaneous aspect begins to fray when this element is added, and the actors stop paying attention to the screen because they fully in the moment of their own scenes.
The only good thing I can say about this movie is that is clear why the French stars are stars. Their recitation and re-enactments are so superior to the Garbage Pail Troupe, that I, for a brief moment, was enjoying what was on screen.
Then, the GPT begins to reprimand the famous actors for distracting them and/or not paying attention …I can’t remember.
That’s when I reached my ça suffit moment. How are they able to talk to people on a tape? It reminded me of another example of movie schtick that maddened me the first -and only- time I saw it – a blooper reel for an animated movie. Really?
I don’t mind flashbacks or non-chronology, but a playwright who didn’t commit suicide, but knew he wouldn’t be around to grant rights to perform his work, and then a dialogue occurring between characters who are in different moments in time in a non-sci-fi movie? Trop de trop.
I feel I gave the movie a fair shot. Life is too short for me to have see a movie that begins to get as ridiculous as Holy Motors. Je refuse.
Remember, just because a movie is French, doesn’t mean it’s good. If you go, at least you’ve been warned.
I can live with not seeing nothin’.
SLIFF Screening: Wednesday, November 20th, 7:30 pm. Webster University Moore Auditorium.