If Les Herbes Folles were directed by a newcomer, you would call it an extraordinary, quirky, thoroughly French look at the strange happenstance of love, the objects that lead us there, and what would happen if we said out loud the often strange things we were thinking. But the film is directed by the great Alain Resnais, now in his 87th year, who has made some of the strangest and most beautiful films of the 20th century (Hiroshima Mon Amour, Last Year in Marienbad). This film stands out among them, an achievement filmmakers younger than him can learn from.
In a style reminiscent of Jean-Pierre Jeunet (director of Amelie), a voice narrates the actions of a woman the viewer sees at first only from behind. An intimate and fanciful description of her shoe shopping habits. This seemingly mundane activity is described as a strange and sensual ritual, at the end of which the woman’s handbag is stolen. Her wallet (dumped by the thief) is found by a man who becomes obsessed with her; his obsession leads to her obsession.
Narration is provided by voice over, as well as the actors articulating the thoughts of their characters. And at first these characters might seem odd — a middle-aged dentist/aviatrix, a retired man who finds it impossible to articulate his thoughts in a coherent manner, a police officer who has his own slight obsession. Indeed, the inability to communicate what we are really thinking and how we feel is a major obstacle in this film. What if our words reflected the jumble of thoughts in our head? What if we acted on our desires that we barely knew existed?
A glorious mix of comedy and fantasy, Resnais is improving with age, creating characters that probably are a reflection of his view on the world, with his experience and charm. This, perhaps, is how we should all communicate: in a strange, vexing, but somehow effective way.