Layers of memory, layers of performance
The 89-year-old perpetual experimenter Alain Resnais’ latest film, Vous n’avez encore rien vu, more catchily rendered in English as You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet, is a conceptual piece about classical theater and the way actors internalize key roles they have played. Call it meta-theater, if you will; like most of the veteran New Waver’s more recent works, it eschews the cinematic in favor of the elegantly stagey. Everyone is well groomed and impecably dressed. There is one modern touch: a big flat-screen TV. In the opening credits sequence, thirteen well-known French actors are summoned (by their real names) to one of the many estates of a theater director, Antoine D’Anthac (Bruno Podalydès), whom they’re informed has just died. When they get there the deceased’s butler acts as master of ceremonies and clicks on the TV where a pre-recorded D’Anthac welcomes them and announces they will watch and comment on a new warehouse-staged production of Jean Anouilh’s 1941 play Eurydice, which they have all played in. (That play is a source for the film, and also another play by Anouilh, Dear Antoine.) But when the younger cast goes into action, the thirteen veterans alternately take up their lines. What all this adds up to is anybody’s guess. There’s something soothing in the formality and artificiality of the proceedings. But their failure to go anywhere and the extreme repetitionsness of the film will keep it from playing well to a non-festival audince.
At first the actors, who include Resnais’ wife and longtime muse Sabine Azéma, Michel Piccoli, and Matthieu Amalric as well as Lambert Wilson and Anne Consigny, are sitting around in big black armchairs. Then as the young actors speak, they begin not just mouthing lines with them but getting up to say them, and at times they are injected by green screen into the play’s two main settings, a train station restaurant and a shabby hotel room. There are three sets or actors who have played the couple, Orpheus and Eurydice: present in the mansion for the ceremonial observance set up by the late director are Pierre Arditi+Sabine Azéma and Lambert Wilson+Anne Consigny; on screen in the youthful warehouse version, Sylvain Dieuaide+Vimala Pons.
The older actors sitting around in the mansion played Eurydice in the past, so their return to their roles may also evoke their own past, and perhaps ways in which their own lives and Anouilh’s classical Greek characters are intertwined in their minds. Perhaps they’re trying to return to their youth. With actors of this quality (and they are the best) and staging, filming, and editing on an equally high level, there is some pleasure in watching this business. But when the person nearest me at the screening dozed off I was not much surprised. As Peter Bradshaw wrote in the Guardian about the film when he saw it at Cannes, “despite its moments of charm and caprice, the film is prolix, inert, indulgent and often just plain dull.”
Often but not always, and it would be foolish to watch this and find no meaning in it. Bradshaw note the obvious fact that the Greek theme of Orpheus refers to nostalgia, a thing an old artist might well be thinking much about. The theme of Orpheus partly means that “by looking back at her in the underworld, he loses her,” as Bradshaw puts it, suggesting Resnais may be saying looking back is stifling and we must live in the present, no matter what. Mike D’Angelo in tweets from Cannes rated the film highly in his severe system, 73 (below Moonrise Kingdom though and well below Holy Motors) and called it Resnais’ “fond farewell, ruminating on the end, his career and the nature of cinema and theater,” adding that it seemed “So audacious in conception initially that it wasn’t quite sustainable,” adding cryptically that it was the film he’d wished Prairie Home Companion had been. You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet is interesting to think about, not so involving to watch.
Vous n’avez encore rien vu debuted at Cannes; it will be released in Belgium and France Sept. 26, 2012. Screened for this review as part of the New York Film Festival.
Directors: Alain Resnais, Bruno Podalydès
Stars: Mathieu Amalric, Pierre Arditi, Sabine Azéma
Runtime: 115 min
Country: France, Germany