We glean from Georges Palet’s thoughts, which we hear as voiceover (intermixed with some omniscent voiceover), that he has a problem: he has killed, has been incarcerated for it, and must work steadily at suppressing an urge to kill again. The shot of a multitude of working timepieces at the jeweler’s to which he has gone to get the battery in his watch replaced tells us, also, that Georges (as well as the director) is obsessed with time. He is no longer young, although his younger wife, Suzanne, is devoted and, currently, anxiously loyal.
Directing Les herbes folles is 87-year-old Alain Resnais, so we think of his longtime, considerably younger partner, actress Sabine Azéma, especially since she plays Marguerite Muir, the dentist whose wallet, stolen by kids along with her still missing pocketbook, Georges finds by his car in a commercial parking lot and, given his criminal past, reluctantly turns into the police. Georges (André Dussollier, at his best) is attracted to the photograph in her wallet of Marguerite in full regalia as an airplane pilot. They talk, quarrel, meet, part, kiss. Resnais’s impeccable mise-en-scène includes imagery both grounded (grasses and weeds bursting through concrete) and airborne (repeated shots of Marguerite’s pocketbook, having been grabbed by the thieves, seemingly floating on its own through air). Finally, the Palets end up in the private plane that Marguerite is piloting when she fatefully turns over the controls to Georges. Throughout, the vulnerabilities of these three characters have been given a good airing; now, disaster strikes. But note Resnais’s navigation of camera and sound; we see and hear nothing—which to this cinéaste means that Resnais can’t let harm come to these people or let go of them.
A film of some wit, strained charm, and little else.
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