NYFF: Alain Resnais’ ‘You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet’ Offers A Bevy of French Talent But Remains at a Surface Level
Alain Resnais’ You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet bears the director’s typical rumination on memory and loss, touching the themes on his cerebral earlier offerings like Hiroshima Mon Amour, Last Year at Marienbad, or his latest, Wild Grass. In his latest work, several famous French actors gather at the home of a deceased playwright who penned a play that they all starred in at one time or another. As they watch a recent filmed version of the play, they end up getting sucked back into the their former roles. Even though the film is brimming with French talent and with Resnais’ legacy of filmmaking, it never quite adds up to a satisfying whole. The film is perhaps too self-aware and never quite makes it past the surface.
The film’s plot is rather simple. Esteemed French actors Mathieu Almaric, Pierre Arditi, Sabine Azéma, Jean-Noël Brouté, Anne Consigny, Anne Duperey, Hippolyte Girardot, Gérard Lartigau, Lambert Wilson, Michel Robin, Jean-Chrétien Sibértin-Blanc, Michel Vuillermoz, and Michel Piccoli (all playing themselves) receive mysterious calls, informing them that their close friend, playwright Antoine d’Anthac (Denis Podalydès) has died. They are given specific instructions by Anthac’s butler Marcellin (Andrzej Seweryn) to arrive at one of his many estates at a certain date and time.
When they arrive, they learn that he has already been buried. His last wish, as communicated through a pre-recorded video, is for them to watch a video of his latest production of his play “Eurydice” together.
All of the actors have been in previous productions of the play and instantly begin to reprise their roles as they watch the film. This film-within-a-film is a modern, somewhat industrial retelling of the play, and was directed by Bruno Podalydès. As d’Anthac had previously staged two productions, each role comes in the form of two actors, with the exception of Almaric, who interacts with the two casts as M. Henri, a gatekeeper between life and death. Azéma and Consigny are both Eurydice, Arditi and Wilson are both Orpheus.
As the actors spontaneously act the scenes as they appear in the film, they are transported to fantasy worlds, where the play is reality and they can thus exist outside of it. As reality and fantasy are blurred, d’Anthac’s true motivation in posthumously bringing together his friends and colleagues is called into question.
Resnais’ intention on making You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet as a sort “filmed theater” is evident. While the actors all “play themselves,” for the most part, they give very showy, artificial performances. None of the actors really interact outside of their roles in the play. Also, the sets look like they are hand-painted and transported straight from a stage. Resnais clearly wants to draw he audience’s attention to the film’s unabashed theatrical artifice, but the end result is quite superficial. The film would have benefitted from a more genuine interaction between actors (perhaps giving them some backstory with each other or with d’Anthac), or some explanation why each of them connects so strongly with “Eurydice” other than that they like the sound of their voices saying the lines. As a result, it’s doubtful that this film will resonate with a larger chunk of audiences, outside New Wave completists or French theater buffs.
Stylistically, it’s strange to compare this film to Resnais’ other works, since this one knowingly uses some very cheesy devices. The opening of the film, for instance, fades in and out between close-ups of each actor’s disembodied profile on the phone as they receive the news of d’Anthac’s death. It seems like something you would see on an episode of Desperate Housewives. For decades, Resnais has obviously more-than proved that he knows what he is doing, so presumably he’s just having fun with this film and playing with breaking the fourth wall. Even though it’s nearly overflowing with prestige, unfortunately, the film just never adds up to anything satisfying.
The Upside: The film brings together a great confluence of French talent.
The Downside: The artifice of the film’s theatrical setting never lets the audience engage with the characters, and Eurydice isn’t a well known enough play to be a centerpiece of a film.
On the Side: Actress Sabine Azéma is Alain Resnais’ wife and sometime muse. The actual play of “Eurydice” – the story of tragic lovers Eurydice and Orpheus, who are finally reunited in death – was written by French playwright Jean Anouilh. “Antoine d’Anthac” is used as a pseudonym here.
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