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The Essentials: 5 Alain Resnais Films You Should Know

The Playlist By Jordan Hoffman | The Playlist March 4, 2014 at 1:06PM

Alain Resnais passed away this weekend at the age of 91. This pillar of “art films” worked continuously since the late 1940s, delighting cineastes, baffling the squares and continually pushing himself with different genres. He made musicals, he made documentaries, he made science-fiction. Indeed, his psychedelic freakout time travel film “Je t’aime, Je t’aime” is currently enjoying a revival at some of the hipper art houses (check local listings) and his final film "Life Of Riley," his third adaptation of an Alan Ayckbourn play, just debuted at the Berlin Film Festival.
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Providence, Resnais

Providence” (1977)
Resnais’ first English-language film has a playful conceit, but still exudes seriousness. John Gielgud is a struggling novelist who tinkers with his latest work. Scenes are played out before him (with various members of his family playing the roles) and as he makes adjustments the interactions take new forms. The permutations are endlessly fascinating, even if some of the overall conflicts have a bit of a “Masterpiece Theater” quality to them. Ellen Burstyn, Dirk Bogarde, Elaine Stritch and David Warner co-star.

Private Fears in Public Places

Private Fears in Public Places” (2006)
Was tied between this and the similarly crypto-fantasy “Wild Grass” to represent Resnais’ winter years’ output. With a primary color pallette and some gauze on the lens, this roundelay of many entwined characters is lightly comic and a little sad. The film consists of a series of short dialogues between two people at bars and offices and apartments, connected by dissolves and jaunty music. Among the plot mechanics, there's a VHS tape lent to a religious woman that was accidentally taped over with hardcore pornography. It’s very stagey, but as you go with it, it becomes enchanting. ‘Fears’ was Resnais’ second of three adaptations of an Alan Ayckbourn play. His first is something we’re not officially listing as essential because it is, exasperatingly, impossible to find.

And that's the 1993 Resnais flick “Smoking/No Smoking.” Ranking fourth on Cahiers du Cinema’s best of the year, this is really two films—the same film run twice with various key changes the effect the outcome. (A commonality with “Providence” to be sure.) The 300-minute diptych was written by Agnes Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri, who would later collaborate as writer/director/stars (with she in the directors’ chair) on “The Taste of Others, “Look at Me” and “Let’s Talk About the Rain.” This movie was a big deal in the early 90s but good luck finding a copy.

Even those who don’t like Resnais (and there are many in this camp) would agree that he frequently swung for the fences. His 1986 adaptation of the play “Melo” is a two-hour film about genius musicians with maybe 15 seconds of music in it. That’s chutzpah.

He also had his gaffes. He’s responsible for one of the most shockingly, wonderfully tone deaf movies I’ve ever seen. 1989’s “I Want To Go Home” is just a train wreck. Written by the loud New York cartoonist/playwright Jules Feiffer, it stars Adolf Green (of Comden and Green) obnoxiously shouting his way through France as his girlfriend, Linda Lavin, tries to get him to enjoy himself. He also has hallucinations about a cartoon cat. It features this image of Gerard Depardieu reimagined as Popeye. Vive le Cinema!

While you're at it, watch "Night And Fog," "Mon Oncle d'Amerique," "Last Year At Marienbad" and "Je t'aime, Je t'aime" in full here

I Want To Go Home, Gerard Depardieu


This article is related to: Alain Resnais, Features, Features, Feature, The Essentials


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