Alain Resnais's highly eccentric and entrancing new film Wild Grass (2009) finds the 88-year-old auteur in playful mood. The film's themes - loneliness, ageing, chance, fantasy - may not sound like a great basis for a comedy, but Resnais has produced an extremely amusing film here - albeit one that never once cues the audience when to laugh. (And is all the funnier for it.) Based on Christian Gailly's experimental 1996 novel L'Incident, the film's focus is on Georges Palet (Andre Dussolier, a joy), a middle-aged, married man with a (real or imagined) shady past, and his fixation upon a woman called Marguerite Muir (Sabine Azema, inevitably) whose stolen wallet he finds in a supermarket car-park. Initially resistant to his overtures, Marguerite - a dentist and part-time aviatrix - becomes increasingly intrigued by her persistent admirer.
Resnais's mode here - whimsy with an undertone of menace - won't be to all tastes. But for those willing to enter into the ludic spirit of Wild Grass, there are great pleasures to be had. There's a wonderfully disorientating sense throughout the movie that anything might happen: the characters behave irrationally and inconsistently and take the viewer right along with them. The delight is in the detail, from Sabine Azema's extraordinary red frizz (the centrepiece of a bravura opening sequence) to Mathieu Amalric's bulging-eyed gaze (he plays one of the policemen who visits Georges). It's also in the arsenal of stylistic tricks (flashbacks, abrupt fade-outs, inserts, fantasy scenes, stream-of-consciousness voiceover mixed with second- and third-person narration) that Resnais employs throughout; these keep the film fizzing up to its audacious and brazenly enigmatic finale. Wild Grass might not be the masterpiece it's been hailed as by some critics, but it's a delightful and thoroughly enjoyable experience, beautiful and barmy; charm itself. Great poster, too.