Directed by: Alain Resnais.
Written by: Alain Resnais and Laurent Herbiet based on the plays by Jean Anouilh.
Starring: Mathieu Amalric (Mathieu Amalric / M. Henri), Pierre Arditi (Pierre Arditi / Orphée #1), Sabine Azéma (Sabine Azéma / Eurydice #1), Jean-Noël Brouté (Jean-Noël Brouté / Mathias), Anne Consigny (Anne Consigny / Eurydice #2), Anny Duperey (Anny Duperey / La mere), Hippolyte Girardot (Hippolyte Girardot / Dulac), Gérard Lartigau (Gérard Lartigau / Le petit régisseur), Michel Piccoli (Michel Piccoli / Le père), Denis Podalydès (Antoine d'Anthac), Michel Robin (Michel Robin / Le garçon de café), Andrzej Seweryn (Marcellin), Jean-Chrétien Sibertin-Blanc (Jean-Chrétien Sibertin-Blanc / Le secrétaire du commissaire), Michel Vuillermoz (Michel Vuillermoz / Vincent), Lambert Wilson (Lambert Wilson / Orphée #2), Vimala Pons (Eurydice), Sylvain Dieuaide (Orphée), Fulvia Collongues (La mère), Vincent Chatraix (Le père), Jean-Christophe Folly (Monsieur Henri), Vladimir Consigny (Mathias), Laurent Ménoret (Vincent), Lyn Thibault (La jeune fille et le garçon de café), Gabriel Dufay (Le garçon d'hôtel).
At 91, Alain Resnais is one of the oldest working filmmakers in the world right now. One of the last surviving figures of the French New Wave, Resnais is still making interesting, daring films – and unlike Godard, he is still making those films about people – not just random images and philosophical double speak, that his supporters have to twist themselves into knots to defend.
Resnais’ latest film – You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet – has a play and a play within the play in the film. More than anything, it is a celebration of acting – and Resnais brings back many of the actors who have worked with him over the years, and throughout the course of the film, shows how different actors performing the same role can greatly change what we think and feel about what we’re seeing. We all know this already of course, but rarely have we seen it spelled out in this way before.
The movie opens with 14 actors getting a telephone call telling them their director has just died, and inviting them to his mansion for the reading of his will. Once there, the actors, all playing themselves, are treated not to the reading of a will – but a videotaped performance from a young theater troupe doing one of the director’s best known plays. All of these actors have played various roles in the play for the director over the years – and as they watch the young performers on the screen, they get inspired, and start reciting dialogue alongside them – soon start acting out the scenes with their old cast mates. At times, they are still in that same room, and at other times, Resnais transports them elsewhere.
The play they are performing is Eurydice by Jean Anouilh – and throughout the film, we’ll see several different actresses play Eurydice, and as many actors playing her lover Orpheus. Each of these couples bring different things to the role – highlight different aspects of the play and their characters. At times, they are by themselves, and at times they are with other actors, who move between the couple to perform their scenes – sometimes in a split screen that allows us to see more than one scene going on at once.
I found all of this fascinating – and of course, I couldn’t help but think back to some of Resnais’ past films by the setting (like Last Year at Marienbad, in a large hotel instead of mansion, but still similar) and the actors who are filtered through Resnais films over the 50 plus years.
But I also have to admit that the movie never really became anything more than a formal exercise – an experiment by Resnais to see if he could pull it off at all, more than a complete movie. I’m sure those more familiar with Anouilh than I am (meaning anyone who has seen one of his plays) may get more out of the film than I did – they’ll better be able to put everything into context. And yet, I admired the film –and Resnais for attempting the film, and pretty much pulling it off even for an Anouilh amateur like myself. The film doesn’t approach Resnais best films like Marienbad (1961), Muriel (1963) or Mon Once D’Amerique (1980) – or even his wildly inventive last film Wild Grass (2009). But it’s another daring experiment by a cinematic giant. It may be more interesting to talk about than it is to watch – but hey, at least it’s not Film Socialism.