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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Dead Playwright Society
by Donald Levit

For Francophiles, the French nation and lovers of its cinema and theater, Alain Resnais’ You Ain’t Seen Nothin Yet/Vous n’avez encore rien vu is bonbon homage to life, actors and acting. Sadly, its participants in dual rôles, its stylized sets and shiftings in time, place and medium, and its framing device and lame resolution may turn off some viewers of this non-narrative non-movie movie.

But whatever the response to the controlling conceit, the director-cowriter’s nearly two-hour reworking-adaptation of and around a pair of Jean Anouilh theater pieces, comes across as a master class in thespian art. The players play themselves, and easily and sans makeup slide into characters within a taped-play-within-a-play-within-a-film both as their younger past selves as characters and their current middle-aged-and-then-some selves as the same characters.

Some names and faces should be familiar. But for viewers who come up blank, it is handy to make the comparison to seeing Guinness, Gielgud, Redgrave, Attenborough and company strut their best. Unfamiliarity with some, or many, of the undisguised faces will confuse audiences over here; but just sit back, go with the flow, and enjoy la crème de la crème enjoying what they do.

From his very first features -- Hiroshima, Mon Amour; Last Year at Marienbad; Muriel, or The Time of Return -- Resnais has disjointed narrative time à la Henri Bergson and Marcel Proust, with memory moving in fusion of past, present, even future. And there has been the not necessarily morbid concern with death, à la Cocteau. Indeed, the “play” in this film is Eurydice, the film-character director Antoine d’Anthac’s (Denis Podalydès) stage imagining of the same Orpheus legend behind Cocteau’s cinema trilogy.

Recently at the New York Film Festival and now premièring commercially four days after its auteur turns ninety-one, the film opens with what seems a “story” and a “death.” Or, rather, a post-mortem aftermath in which the late d’Anthac’s will has requested that the players from years of his various Orpheus legend versions (Pierre Arditi and Lambert Wilson as Orpheus One and Two; Sabine Azéma and Anne Consigny as two Eurydices), assemble at the last of his stunning capricious houses.

Delighted at the unexpected reunion, the actors are greeted by butler Marcellin (Andrzej Seweryn), who settles them upstairs and then ushers them all into a comfortable private screening room to watch and pass judgment on the newest version. (Their attendance in itself indicates loyalty to their deceased friend and his wishes.) Set in a warehouse and performed by experimental Company of the Dove, the video-recorded drama unreels piece by piece, casts its spell, and sucks in the actors watching younger actors reprise their own performances of the past.

Here and there, in the warehouse or a railroad station waiting room or on its platform, in a Moorish-arched courtyard, or in a hotel room with meager brass bed and night tables, solo and then in appropriate couples, the invited actor-guests repeat their lines from different levels of the past (and present).

Amidst confusion, romantic, carnal and filial love are here. Jealousy and spite, betrayal and faith, fear and separation and time passing unto recovery but then on unto death, flash across the screen and across the screen within that screen, the screening-room-as-unadorned-stage, while the merely players have their exits, entrances and many parts. The mise-en-scène is life, and vice versa.

In a screen introduction, the host asked his actors to critique. But actors’ blood will out, and from passive viewers they become active characters. In old-fashioned poetic realism, this world’s a stage for a wry look at love and loss. The prodigious talent on display is in itself a treat. The vision becomes added pleasure for those willing to enter into the spirit of exquisite pain and happiness alike.

(Released by Kino Lorber; not rated by MPAA.)

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