Thursday, 17 November 2011

muriel (d alain resnais, w jean cayrol)

Somewhere in my head Muriel had acquired iconic status. I'm not quite sure why. There's a book of Truffaut's reviews I was given at the age of 17 which probably talked about it. (It's boxed up somewhere so I cannot check.) Maybe it's just the simplicity of the title. Maybe it's Resnais himself, the mysterious maestro of detached emotion who ended up being a devotee of Ayckbourn. A grand survivor from the heyday of Nouvelle Vague, still doing his idiosyncratic thing. You wonder if they still talk to one another, the survivors, him and Godard and Varda and a few others. Do they head to Cineworld to check out the latest Soderburgh and then have a few pints afterwards in a quiet bar, where maybe someone half-recognises them and comes over in a drunken haze, mistaking one for Truffaut or the other for Giscard D'Estaing?

I kind of hope so. Maybe, if they do, they spend the odd twenty minutes trying to work out what Muriel is really all about. I've rarely seen a film edited in a more unusual fashion. The first 45 minutes is given over entirely to a slightly stagey evening meeting between four people, including the worldly-wise Helene, played by Delphine Seyrig. Then the movie rattles through a whole dollop of plot with a string of three- second edits, which seemingly move everything forward to a new starting point. Which is the cue for the next wordy scene, before another fast forward. As though Resnais had discovered the art of the music video twenty years earlier, dispensed with the music and slotted these sequences into what at times does indeed feel like an Ayckbourn play.

The film's most arresting moment comes when it includes a five minute documentary-style passage, seemingly out of keeping with the remainder of its aesthetic, about the Algerian war. In fact this war haunts the film, with one character still affected by the abuses he witnessed there, and another falsely claiming to have served there. These strong, political themes are mixed with dry humour and melodrama. The whole concoction makes for a film which is frequently baffling and constantly wrong-foots the viewer. We never quite know what type of movie we're watching. It challenges our patience; which is not such a bad thing, but in a somewhat peculiar twist it does so through it's banality. Perhaps in the end it's what you would get if you were to blend Sartre's seaside tale, Nausea, with a dash of Ayckbourn and a soupcon of Battle of Algiers. One awaits the remake.

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