“There’s virtually no limit to the levels of reflexivity on display in You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet, but what does all this meta-cinematic (and meta-theatrical) play add up to?” asks Andrew Schenker at Slant. “One way of looking at French master Alain Resnais’s latest would suggest that it amounts to very little other than a skillfully executed study in cleverness, filled with the sort of superficial bursts of imagination that dominated the director’s previous effort, Wild Grass, itself little more than an exercise in whimsical pastiche. Another, more generous way of approaching the film, though, would be to consider it as an answer to the long-posed question about the proper relationship between a theatrical source (in this case Jean Anouilh’s Eurydice, with material thrown in from another of the playwright’s works) and its cinematic adaptation. From this angle, the reference point in the Resnais canon is 1986’s Mélo, which similarly foregrounded and made a virtue of its theatrical source while doubling and tripling the layers of irony, though nowhere near the extreme degree that the director pursues in his latest.”
As the New Yorker‘s Richard Brody explains, Resnais’s “exquisite setup involves a baker’s dozen of France’s greatest actors including Michel Piccoli, Sabine Azéma (Resnais’s wife), Pierre Arditi, and Mathieu Amalric as themselves, gathering at a rural mansion for the funeral of a friend, the (fictitious) playwright Antoine d’Anthac (Denis Podalydès), who addresses them posthumously by way of a video that presents a youthful theatre company’s rehearsal of his play Eurydice. It had, years earlier, been a vehicle for the assembled mourners, and, as the recording of it (made by the director Bruno Podalydès) unfolds, they can’t keep from accompanying it with their own impromptu performance of the play. The expanses of the house fuse with the inner expanses of the mind to become the living stage of memory: long-ago love affairs, wrenching separations, tawdry betrayals, wild jealousy, and violent death surge forth from the past and, in the process, revive the veteran actors’ youth.”
“All this sounds rather remarkably impenetrably knotty and maybe impossibly French,” concedes Glenn Kenny, “and there’s a sense in which cultural specificity seems kind of crucial to ‘getting’ what’s going on here…. However. Once the conceit is successfully realized and the Eurydice action moves forward while toggling in different modes, the movie’s exploration of the art of acting and the fungible nature of what we call ‘tragedy’ takes on a remarkable immediacy that’s rendered more than slightly phantasmagorical by the 90-year-old Resnais’s delight in the play of digital space. Most, if not all, of the setting inhabited by the actors transporting themselves (and the audience) in D’Anthac’s lair are digital simulations, from great halls that look like video-game foyers to ratty pension bedrooms wherein various iterations of Orpheus and Eurydice enact their passion and domestic disputes…. The formal innovations and sense of play aren’t distractions from the emotion, rather, Resnais suggests, it is only through the rigorous exercise of the imagination that art is able to communicate anything even suggesting the Real.”
Keith Uhlich has a brief recommendation in Time Out New York, and indieWIRE‘s Peter Knegt reports that Kino Lorber has picked up U.S. rights: “The film will be released in all major markets in early 2013.” Earlier: Reviews from the premiere in Cannes.
Updates, 10/5: “Resnais is at once a formalist who adheres to the strictures of the stage and a surrealist influenced by the reach of our imaginations,” writes Jordan Cronk in Reverse Shot. “Borne of the internalized passions of both waking life and the unconscious, Resnais’s cinema operates at once outside of and in relation to the absolute. Even a more narratively linear work such as Coeurs (whose more metaphorically forthright American title is Private Fears in Public Places) unfolds like a highly tactile dream; in translating the intrinsic into the cinematic, Resnais approaches the subconscious and the concrete on equal terms, locating a hyperaware middle ground that is nonetheless authentic.”
At the Playlist, Peter Labuza gives You Ain’t an A-.
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