Venerable French director Alain Resnais has spent the latter years of his career indulging a yen for the frothy, as evidenced by Wild Grass, a movie so good-natured and ebullient that it’s impossible to tell how much of it is a put-on. André Dussollier plays a fiftysomething gentleman who finds a wallet on the ground, admires the pictures he finds inside, and plots the best way to get its owner to meet him, even though he’s already happily married and has a mysterious criminal past that would make a stalking charge risky. The wallet’s owner, Sabine Azéma, is a dentist and part-time pilot who spends about half of Wild Grass rebuffing Dussollier’s advances until—wholly and inexplicably—she changes her mind.
And here, a beguilingly hazy romantic comedy goes utterly bugnuts. What initially seemed like charming character eccentricities become more obviously random as the plot begins to zig and zag, as though Resnais were spinning a wheel to determine each scene’s direction. Wild Grass is based on a novel by Christian Gailly, but Resnais and his screenwriters were reportedly loose with the adaptation, taking the dialogue and the upbeat tone from Gailly, but playing around with the plot details and character motivations. Dussollier’s obsession with Azéma looks like amusing folly in one scene, and comes off as pathetic in the next. Resnais mixes comedy, melodrama, and even suspense, introducing question after question while building to a bizarre finale that makes the whole notion of moving plots forward with mystery seem frivolous.
Wild Grass might be some kind of dream-narrative, or it might be Resnais’ comment on the infinite possibilities of motion-picture storytelling. Dussollier is a cinephile, and his actions throughout the film seem half driven by the usual irrationality of a human in love, and half driven by his desire to be a more compelling movie character. Whatever it is, Wild Grass is so overtly artificial and aggressively trifling that it’s bound to put some viewers off, though it’s also so bright and funny that it’s hard not to be at least a little enchanted. Resnais’ music is so sweet, even when his words are nonsense.