No sooner did I write that French film director Alain Resnais (who died yesterday at the age of 91, still working on editing his last film) left behind his fascination with memory and the reimagining of the past than I saw a capsule review in the New Yorker of “Je t’aime, je t’aime” indicating that it is literally about revisiting the past and found a 2012 film he directed, “Vous n’avez encore rien vu” (You ain’t seen nothing yet!), as the only one streaming on Netflix. The site’s synopsis of it is “Upon the death of a celebrated playwright, his actor friends gather to view a recording of his play in which they’ve all appeared over the years. As they watch, memories take them back to their stage roles, and each reflects on life, love and death.”
The film begins with various actors and actresses being summoned to the reading of the will of a playwright, Antoine d’Anthac (Denis Podalydès) and his burial, and they all arrive at what is not very much like a house in the countryside (the room inside the entrance is immense even for a palace). Rather than a reading of the will, they are seated on couches to watch a screening of a new production (seeking permission) of the deceased playwright’s play “Eurydice” (actually Jean Anouilh’s 1941 play) in which over the years each has performed in.
The actors in the video of a performance are quite young, the veterans of stage and screen (not least in earlier movies directed by Resnais) are not. They remember the lines, though. At first they speak the with the young performers, but soon they are replaying scenes with each other, first at what has become the screening room, later in sets. Many of the lines are repeated by two or three players of the role. The slightly modified repetitions connect back more than half a century to “L’année dernière à Marienbad” (Last Year at Marienbad, 1961), though the 2012 film was shot in color and, until the final quarter hour, has no tracking shots in contrast to the very fluid (almost continually moving) camerawork of “L’année dernière.” Not that it is visually static: cutting is frequent in “Encore.” And Resnais again had the services of no slouch of a cinematographer (Eric Gautier [Into the Wild, Motorcycle Diaries, Private Fears in Public Places]).
I was disappointed that the veteran actors do not “reflect on life, love and death,” except as Anouilh’s characters do in his play.
Though I am very familiar with a few Anouilh plays (Antigone, Becket) and with the Orpheu-Eurydice myth, I was unfamiliar with Anouilh’s “Eurydice.” Beyond updating it to the (1941) present, Anouilh made fundamental changes to the story that Glück and others have taken from Virgil. Rather than being his beloved wife, Anouilh’s Eurydice, is a one-night stand of Orpheus (Orphée in French). Anouilh’s Eurydice dies in flight from another man, Dulac (Aristaeus, a minor god in the ancient version). Dulac, with whom Eurydice had been having an affair before meeting Orpheus, summons to the Marseilles train station. Whereas the ancient Eurydice was fleeing the unwanted attention of someone (Aristaeus) who had just noticed and wanted her, Anouilh’s Eurydice flees both her new love (Orpheus) and a man whom she despises but has been having sex with (Matthew). In both versions, she dies.
In the classical version, Orpheus’s grief is such that he is allowed to go down into Hades to bring Eurydice back. After being tormented by Matthew telling him that Eurydice had been his for the last year, Orpheus is granted a second chance of life with Eurydice, providing he not look her in the face for the duration of a night (in the train station). He can only tell if she is lying by looking into her eyes, and eventually decides he has to know and looks at her, knowing that doing so will return her to death. The classical Orpheus, up through Jean Cocteau’s modern-day (1950) one does not as overtly decide to look and lose.
Most of Resnais’s film is a jagged adaptation of Anouilh play (most of his films from recent decades have been adaptations of plays, including some musicals, and the frame of this one derives from another Anhouil play, “Cher Antoine, ou L’amour rate” (Dear Antoine, or The Love That Failed, 1969, minus the play’s its avalanche). Aside from seeing the cast of veteran French actors (including Resnais’s wife, Sabine Azéma [born in 1949]), the main interest of the film is in showing Anouilh play enacted by three casts (Pierre Arditi and Sabina Azéma, Lambert Wilson and Anne Consigny as the veterans recalled to embodying Orphée and Eurydice, and the unknown new troupe). I’d have like to learn what the actors thought about the characters or their past involvements, but don’t.
Psychology/motivation are generally of little interest to French film-makers (and totally foresworn by nouveau roman writers like Alain Robbe-Grillet, who wrote the screenplay for “L’année dernière à Marienbad” ). Anouilh’s Orphée is obsessively interested in what happened, but in contrast to X in “Marienbad” is not trying to impose his will (via memory or falsified claims) on the woman. Herein, it is the woman (Anouilh’s Eurydice) who offers unreliable (falsified) past(s) to the skeptical male (Orphée). The actors in the audience, recall their old lines, but there is no indication of what relationships they had offstage when they were performing in the play. Even their rendition of Anouilh’s lines are not very different from cast to cast.
Though I’m impressed that Resnais was still making films in his 90s (“Life of Riley” (Aimer, Boire et Chanter) from another play by Alan Ayckbourn (Resnais had earlier filmed “Smoking/No Smoking” (1993) and “Private Fears in Public Places (2006) from Aycbourn plays; Michael Winner filmed “Chorus of Disapproval” (1989) from another) is being released later this month, having won the Fipresci International Critics Prize at the Berlin Film Festival last month).
The DVD’s only bonus feature is a trailer (so I missed little by streaming the film).