Alain Resnais is a filmmaker I don't know well, and his most famous films (HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR, LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD, NIGHT AND FOG) evoked respect rather than affection. As for LA GUERRE EST FINIE, that one was finie for me after 30 minutes or so, though I don't remember why. However, after checking out the reviews on imdb, I decided to record MON ONCLE D'AMERIQUE (1980) from TCM, and I loved it. So which Resnais films are the next ones to try?
MON ONCLE D'AMERIQUE begins with, and includes throughout, some biologically based theories of human behavior delivered by Professor Henri Laborit, who looks exactly the way Hollywood would cast him. We also cut between the lives of three children who grow up to be Roger Pierre, Nicole Garcia, and Gerard Depardieu. Depardieu grows up in a devoutly Catholic farming family; the other boy has a grandfather who owns a little island off the coast of Brittany. The girl grows up in a Communist family in a working-class neighborhood in Paris. We suspect that these parallel lives will intersect, and part of the suspense and satisfaction comes from seeing how this will happen, and which parts of their childhoods will remain important, which will wither away. Their favorite stars are Danielle Darrieux, Jean Gabin, and Jean Marais, and quick clips from their films are shown at key moments in the three lives. Everyone on those boards will love that aspect of the film, even if, like me, you don't recognize the films these scenes are from. Would you believe that Resnais uses a plot twist which could have come from a 1940s woman's melodrama? You have to love that. Well, actually you don't, but I did. Music, cinematography, and editing rhythms are all marvelous. Resnais' camera placement isn't flashy or obtrusive, but it always seems to be in the right place.
Resnais even uses Professor Laborit to create some suspense in the fictional stories. When the professor talks about suicide, we immediately begin to wonder how that might work into the evolving plot. I could mention a few other things I particularly liked, and carp just a little about how one of the professor's theories about psychosomatic illness is illustrated, but would rather let you discover this on your own. I will say that the island adds a certain aura of romance--the movie would not be the same without the island--and that if you pay attention to the scene the actress plays early in the film, you will enjoy a scene late in the film even more.