If ever there was a project for a director of Alain Resnais’ perpetually inventive spirit to wrap up his career, this is it. The trouble with “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet!” is that the still-frisky 89-year-old auteur has found a conceptually playful way to present a downright stodgy piece of material, as a stage director invites 13 actors who appeared in earlier stagings of Jean Anouilh’s “Eurydice” to evaluate a young company’s new interpretation, fully aware they won’t be able to resist the compulsion to reprise their roles. Starry French cast should drive local interest, with limited hope for export.
After a laughably hokey-looking credits sequence (think late-’90s public television), the exercise begins with 13 thesps receiving identical phone calls informing them of theater director Antoine d’Anthac’s passing. Like characters in an Agatha Christie novel or its cheekier cousin, “Clue,” the thesps are summoned to one of Antoine’s many mansions. This setup hails directly from another of Anouilh’s works, “Dear Antoine,” billed along with “Eurydice” as source material for Laurent Herbiet and Alex Reval’s screenplay.
First to show is Resnais’ wife and muse, Sabine Azema. Like her dozen well-known co-stars, the flaming-red-haired Azema plays “herself,” though in truth, these may actually be the most artificial performances ever given by most of this ensemble. Resnais has stripped their identities down to an essence — that of actor — and like robots designed for one function, they spring into action upon hearing a new company recite the lines they once delivered themselves, motivated by some vague combination of loyalty to Antoine and fidelity to the original material.
After Azema arrives, another half dozen guests step through the front door, one after the other in nearly identical fashion. With each entrance, composer Mark Snow supplies a mystical-sounding burst of electronic music, underscoring the comedy of the jump cut that preceded it. For Resnais’ longtime editor Herve de Luze, it’s hard to imagine a greater challenge than dealing with the script’s repetitive/simultaneous action, and his solution seems to be to embrace the situation’s nearly absurd humor.
At Antoine’s request, his old company settles in to watch taped rehearsals of a fresh “Eurydice,” and the next 100 minutes amount to an extended arm-wrestling match between several versions of Anouilh’s play. (In order to ensure a different, 21st-century feel, Resnais delegated direction of the new “Eurydice” to Bruno Podalydes.) At first, the actors sit on oversized black couches watching a loose, warehouse-set update, during which Resnais lingers longer on the vets’ wide-eyed reactions than he does on the amateurs’ new interpretation. As the play draws them back in, the older actors begin to anticipate or repeat lines, eventually rising from their seats and stepping into crude greenscreen versions of the play’s two key sets: a train station diner and a cheap hotel room.
To complicate matters, Antoine directed “Eurydice” twice before, and he has invited both casts, which means auds must accept three couples (Pierre Arditi/Azema and Lambert Wilson/Anne Consigny in the mansion, as well as Sylvain Dieuaide/Vimala Pons in the warehouse) as doomed lovers Orpheus and Eurydice. Although Resnais and de Luze devise inventive ways of alternating between Podalydes’ footage and the older casts’ separate re-enactments, the film’s style overwhelms the material, which isn’t all that compelling to begin with.
Far more interesting is the meta-story, sadly undeveloped, which comments on the loyalty thesps feel toward a beloved director; most of the actors have worked with Resnais multiple times before, though the relatively young age of his onscreen proxy suggests the film isn’t as personal as critics might want. It also comments on the crazy manipulations an artist must sometimes engineer to create something fresh.
Even if “Eurydice” doesn’t really warrant this sort of attention, the experience demonstrates something greater: the bond actors feel to souls they’ve previously inhabited and the way those characters live on within them.
Though Resnais’ gamble seems to have failed, it’s encouraging to see a director on the brink of 90 still willing to experiment in a way most helmers half his age wouldn’t dare. While the performances feel rawer and less conventional in the young warehouse version, Resnais supplies the more daring directorial solution, giving poignancy to the film’s title: If life permits, he could go right on innovating.