You have to hand it to famously experimental French director Alain Resnais. In his tenth decade, the 91-year-old director is still willing to play with convention, and that’s to be applauded.
His latest, You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet, rounds up an impressive roster of French film royalty, all of whom play exaggerated versions of themselves, and brings them to a country house, supposedly fulfilling the last wish of deceased fictional playwright Antoine d’Anthac (Denis Podalydès as a younger analogue of Resnais). They have all supposedly acted in his masterpiece, Euridice – actually written by Jean Anouilh.
The assembled stars, including Sabine Azemá, Lambert Wilson, Mathieu Almaric, Anne Consigny and Michel Piccoli, are summoned to watch a contemporary staging of Euridice by a young cast of unknowns.
As the video footage of the warehouse-set version gets under way, the old guard gradually come under the spell of the text, as if inhabited by the spirit of their former roles, and are drawn into re-enacting their original performances.
The high concept is initially fun, but the ageing cast soon set about chewing the scenery with extremely over the top renditions, most notably a painfully melodramatic pairing between Arditi and Azemá, the latter being Resnais’ wife.
It does a disservice to the interesting, contemporary take on the tragic Greek myth, and it’s not long before you find yourself wishing the warehouse kids were given the floor and the old glory hunters shown the door.
The constant interruptions and overlapping of both tales just doesn’t work, even resorting to that hoary old chestnut, the split screen, while continually breaking the flow of what could be a fascinating exploration of theatre.
I can’t help but think, however, that therein lies the problem. Film and theatre are very, very different mediums, and what works for one almost certainly doesn’t for the other.
No attempt is made to conceal the fact that this is a very theatrical performance. The mansion looks decidedly unreal, purposefully mimicking a stage rather than a film set. The performances, both with the guests and on video, are as if treading the boards one evening, rather than being captured on camera.
Resnais is want to marry the two, but it just doesn’t gel. The overly-wrought performances seem false on film, and the subtleties of the play, speaking of love, loss and the frailty of mortal life, a theme no doubt playing on Resnais’ mind, is lost amongst all the kerfuffle as these cinematic stars vie for attention.
At a torturous two hours, the shtick wears thin exceedingly quickly, which is a real shame. I hope we have more to come from Resnais, as this is far from his finest, and it would be sad indeed if it were to be his swansong. A little like Kubrick bowing out on Eyes Wide Shut.
Stephen A Russell