Though his first two features, Hiroshima, Mon Amour and Last Year At Marienbad, established him as something of a highbrow icon, Alain Resnais has always been a cultural omnivore. Over the course of his nearly 70-year career, the French director has collaborated with everyone from Marguerite Duras to Stan Lee, Chris Marker to Stephen Sondheim. Equally inspired by comics and experimental fiction, Resnais makes movies that don’t so much break filmmaking conventions as circumvent them; at 91 years old, he remains one of the world’s most unpredictable filmmakers, and one of its most idiosyncratic.
Resnais’ new film, You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet, is ostensibly an adaptation of two unrelated plays by Jean Anouilh: Eurydice (1941) and Dear Antoine: Or, The Love That Failed (1971). However, Resnais’ methods of adaptation—placing one play within the other, and then refracting its dialogue across multiple characters and layers of reality—quickly eclipse the source material. The framing devices form a pliable grid work; the words of the play-within-a-play-within-the-film change meaning from character to character, moment to moment. Like Resnais’ Wild Grass (2009), You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet often seems to be on the verge of falling apart; it’s a risky balancing act of a movie—deceptively complex and genuinely moving.
The film begins with the death of a famous playwright. A dozen veteran actors—all playing themselves—gather at his home to view his will. There, in a makeshift screening room, they are asked to watch a recording of a young theater troupe performing one of the playwright’s best-known works. All of the actors have participated in previous stagings of the play; some have played the same roles in different productions. Out of nostalgia, they begin reciting dialogue alongside the younger troupe onscreen. Memory gives way to imagination (a perennial Resnais theme), and soon the actors become wrapped up in their own, individual versions of the play.
That isn’t to say that You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet is some kind of dry, humorless structural exercise. Like many later Resnais movies, it has a goofy, anything-goes atmosphere, rich with out-of-nowhere gags and eccentric formal decisions. The opening credits suggest a swords-and-sandals epic—an impression reinforced by the all-marble design of the playwright’s home—while the first few scenes play like something out of an early talkie, complete with a grand staircase, an all-dissolve telephone montage, and title cards. The MIDI score—by The X-Files’ Mark Snow, who has also scored Resnais’ previous two films—further contributes to the movie’s oddball vibe.
These eccentricities don’t undercut the movie; instead they give the impression that You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet comes directly from Resnais’ imagination—a place where wildly divergent acting styles, old-fashioned filmmaking techniques, Greek myths, and The X-Files can all come together to form a cohesive whole.