I remember 2007, and in particular I remember reading Xan Brooks’ piece on The Guardian’s web site: ‘First Ingmar Bergman, now Michelangelo Antonioni.’ One sentence in that piece has haunted me since, sparking an expectant fear that I cannot dismiss. At the time Xan wrote about the concern of an art-house apocalypse, and considering the age of Resnais, Godard and Rohmer at the time, his point was well taken. Since then Alain Resnais’ 2009 film Wild Grass marked a return to form, and The 56th BFI London Film Festival screens the latest entry in the auteur’s canon: You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet. The premise of Resnais’ latest film is a simple one. A group of actors are invited to the home of a deceased writer, the author of the play ‘Eurydice’, in which each has acted one of the parts. They are invited to watch a recorded interpretation of their deceased friend’s play, and what starts out as the assembled guests reciting the lines they had once spoken on stage, turns into a performance as they begin to perform the play one final time.
The cinema of Resnais can be slow and meandering, highly experimental, and for some this will obviously be problematic. His films are above all an experience, in which he creates worlds from which we can derive such a distinct sense of feeling like no other. Resnais still makes films as if he were a young man, his cinema a continuous experiment. In this Resnais dares to exclude scenes, replacing them instead with title cards, white text on a black background describing the action rather than showing it. There are the inevitable reflective traits of a Resnais narrative, an exploration of the metaphysics of performance. He challenges the supposition that the staged should ever be able to realistically transpose itself into the real, and he even goes so far as to suspend the belief in the minds of its audience. The intrusion on the play by the assembled guests dispels any belief that the staged is anything but the sum of its parts.
You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet features a cast compromised of some of French cinema’s most recognisable actors: Michael Piccoli, Sabine Azéma and Mathieu Amalric to name but a few; and Resnais unashamedly places us in the same position as the assembled audience in the film itself, spectators consciously aware that there is no reason to attempt to suspend our belief. It is after all staged and is not real.
The difficulty when encountering the film is Resnais’ indulgence, a belief that the film requires its expansive running time. But this is Resnais, a director whose films function on an instinctual level. They are an experience, sometimes difficult to define as good films or bad films. Rather it is that unique sense of feeling that one derives from his films, which comes through the performances he can inspire, the dialogue, or his gentle but potent observations on life, art, love and death. His latest features all the charm that has defined his cinema, reflecting on art and love, but also theatre and performance as a personal experience. If it seems like he is indulging, rest assured that there is a point to it all, a point he maybe takes longer to get to than he should, but he nevertheless does succeed in bringing the film to a memorable conclusion.