Another slippery, challenging and slyly ironic cine-puzzle from 90-year-old French maestro, Alain Resnais.
What could very well become the now 90-year-old Alain Resnais' scintillating swansong, You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet is an elegiac and multi-layered celebration of drama, death and the problems of adaptation and interpretation which sees a cadre of top-tier, chain-smoking French actors (all Resnais regulars) invited to the mock-classical hilltop mansion of a recenrly deceased playwright in order to judge the videotaped rehearsals of one of his most famous plays, Euridyce.
It's an amusing set-up which initially riffs on hackneyed, countryhouse murder mystery conventions (recalling his cubist masterwork, Last Year at Marienbad, no less) and whose eccentricity and energy almost match that of his loopy 2009 gem, Wild Grass. Dealt with in devilish tongue-in-cheek style by Resnais, he introduces each actor with a stern phonecall announcing the death the beloved Antoine d'Anthac (Denis Podalydès), followed swiftly by a shot of them arriving, individually and in pairs, at the mansion accompanied by the same ominous, midi-orchestra flourish (care of composer Mark Snow).
Sat down and presented the new footage by a raffish butler, it's not long before the actors have become intoxicated by the material they are watching, not least due to the fact that they have all starred in a production of the play at one time or another. They begin to perform, interacting with the images, interacting with past versions of themselves, transporting between times, realities and theatrical backdrops.
While the film proffers an oblique commentary on forms of adaptation and expression both in cinema and theatre, its pleasures are much more directly articulated. The manner in which Resnais melds the classical with the modern is present in virtually every scene, whether it be the dry, ironic manner he deals with this bizarre request from beyond the grave which, if you think about it, makes no sense at all, to the electrified cod-classical score and the use of sparkling digital landscapes to add a dreamlike context for the action.
And yet, there are elements which are taken entirely seriously, most notably the parallel performances of the play within the play within the play. It's a film about looking back to past work and past roles with fondness and freshness, cherishing the characters you once inhabited and the joys and pains of excavating the recesses of memory to bring these strange creatures to the life.
But while its arch, all-consuming cleverness (including the oblique double ending) may irk some viewers, there's something movingly sincere and personal about You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet. It's as if Resnais is glaring death in the eye and attempting to pre-stage his own wake. The way in which Antoine d'Anthac's beloved gang of actorly acolytes show no real surprise or pain when being alerted of his untimely death, but suddenly become awash with big emotions when they are reacquainted with one of his works. Though it's tough to make finite assertions as to what this slippery film is actually about, it seems to address the difficult relationships between directors and actors and how we only really start to exist – personally, and in the eyes of others – though the collaborative process of the art we create.
This latest (last?) from Alain Resnais got a muted reception at Cannes 2012.
It's a touch cookie, bit really comes alive on a second viewing. The performances are sensational.
Well worth multiple viewings.