Watching Inception on Day 71, I came away from it trying to figure out what I thought about the ending, marvelling at the care and sheer number of ideas they'd packed into a summer popcorn movie, and wishing it had more of an emotional impact to it.
Cut to Day 72 and esteemed French director Alan Resnais' Wild Grass, and I'm even more perplexed by the film's final scene, glad that the defiantly old-school art film features many of the same ideas about memory, imagination and connection, but wondering if some of Nolan's narrative clarity would have sharpened the feelings that genuinely do pervade Resnais' work.
Granted, this is an art film that features a clear-cut story but intends to willfully defy convention. It starts with a single, middle-aged woman - who shares a dentistry practice with her friend and is a part-time pilot - having her bag and wallet stolen. Later, in an empty parking lot, a 50-ish gentleman - happily married with kids and grandkids, but also harboring a secret from his past - finds the wallet. After it's returned, a long, strange relationship forms between the two, which eventually involves the woman's friend and the man's wife. The guy is a huge movie buff and fellow aviation lover, too, so those interests also inform the film's plot.
The way Resnais literally focuses his camera on certain details, creates flashbacks, and uses musical cues - including the famous Fox fanfare - combines to heighten the film's "conscious" effect and playful cross of genres. You always know you're watching a movie and being jarred jaggedly and smoothly between contrasting scenes to feel an emotion. Unlike Nolan's Inception, which felt like a perfectly calibrated feat created by an engineer, Resnais operates from the opposite direction. He's an unpredictable painter throwing random colors up onto the canvas. One of the film's best scenes is almost a film short unto itself which features the two leads walking towards a coffee shop with a movie theater in the background, the word "Cinema" lighted on the marquee in bright flourescence, with the narrator describing how the couple were "almost holding hands."
There is a little action in the film at the very end, but it's at its best conveying the messy, complicated relationships that evolve between flawed human beings. There's a gauzy quality to Eric Gautier's cinematography, combined with Mark Snow's dreamy score, that puts the movie into a magical place that's as impressive in its own unique way as the alternate world experienced in Inception. And again, the last scene is just as puzzling as Nolan's conclusion. For now, they both come off to me as more tricky than satisfying. But I'll keep thinking about it...