Feb. 12, 2010: A stunned hum filled Whitsell Auditorium as the credits rolled on Wild Grass. Shell-shocked debriefings carried over into the men's room; what-did-it-all-mean klatches cohered in the lobby; tentative praise and twitchy bafflement fought it out in the sculpture garden. Love and hate and everything in between melted into a unanimous vibe, a single question: What in the hell was that?

The mystifying non sequitur that caps Alain Resnais' loopy film nips at me still—I'm no closer to a satisfying interpretation than I was four months ago—but I'm as sure now as I was then that Wild Grass is a deranged tour de force, a film that earns its whacked-out coup de grâce by reminding us, with every odd detour along the way, that movies can and should leave us dumbstruck.

It begins benignly enough, with a star-crossed scenario bathed in lambent light, a soft first serve preparatory to a slight comedy of coincidence and folly. Marguerite (Sabine Azéma), who is photographed from behind for the first few minutes of the film, so that she is recognizable only as a shock of red hair with a body attached, loses her wallet to a purse-snatcher and consoles herself with a warm bath. When Georges (André Dussollier) finds the cash-stripped wallet in a parking garage and rifles through its contents, he is struck and felled by the picture on Marguerite's pilot's license. His eyes tell it: "She will be mine." The rest of Wild Grass follows Georges on his spellbound free-fall, and the descent is thrillingly weird.

My colleague Alistair Rockoff, cutting through the fog of bliss rusting my gears, correctly identified the rough trajectory of Georges' fall: His obsession with Marguerite, whom he knows only as a single photograph and myriad attendant fantasies, triggers a desperate sexual regression, an extreme late-midlife crisis. With desire frying his aging brain and body, Georges' eager daydreaming shades into creepy stalking and criminal cries for attention before morphing into a stud's inflated ego and easy way with women. By the end, he is essentially a flailing child bent on taking the entire formerly sensible world with him. As Georges loses his mind, Resnais furiously empties his arsenal of cinematic tricks, as if attempting to keep up with his creation. It's a dizzying display of prestidigitation, exploiting at every moment our willingness—our need—to be overwhelmed, enthralled and even a little bit miffed that we'll never truly understand what we've seen. PG.


Wild Grass

opens Friday at Fox Tower.