“Yes, hello? May I please speak to Holden? Holden Myballsack?” Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

What is Wild Grass like? Two other films come immediately to mind: Pere Portabella's Warsaw Bridge (1990) and Luca Guadagnino's I Am Love (2009). What these films have in common, on top of being directed by Europeans, is an emphasis on cinematic effects. This needs some explaining. In a regular movie, cinematic effects are used to access the emotional states or moods of the characters. Music, lighting, colors, and other external elements are arranged in way that reflects the internal condition (I'm nervous, I'm in love, I'm in danger, I want to kill him dead). This emotional information is used to thicken the plot—is he going to do it? Is he crazy? Is he murderous? In a film like Wild Grass, by the great French director Alain Resnais (he is in his late 80s), these effects do not so much service the plot, but the other way around: The plot is there for the overproduction of these effects.

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The plot of Wild Grass is weak: An elderly man happens to find a wallet owned by a woman who is a dentist and an amateur pilot (Sabine Azéma—the director's wife in real life). The elderly man (André Dussollier) is married to a beautiful woman (Anne Consigny). The two have beautiful kids, beautiful lives (the wife sells pianos; the elder man does nothing), and a beautiful house. The elderly man, however, becomes obsessed with the dentist. The dentist reports his growing obsession to the cops. The cops warn the elderly man to stop his stalking and calling. He does. He totally stops the psychotic letters and phone messages. But before peace returns to the world, the tables turn on the dentist—she becomes obsessed with the elderly man. This obsession ends with a crash.

The cinematic effects that make this movie memorable are drawn primarily from the thriller genre. In scene after scene, the music (almost Hitchcockian or Herrmannian), the camera movement, the shadows in a room, the expression on the actors' faces reflect an internal state that's dark, dangerous, and criminal. But this crime never happens. Indeed, nothing really happens until the very end. And what we find at the end of Wild Grass is not that different from what we find at the end of Portabella's Warsaw Bridge. Both films leave us with this message, this one truth that's present in every part of the expanding universe: Life is one big accident. recommended

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