Alain Resnais revisits classic Greek legend at Cannes

PARIS Mon May 21, 2012 12:54pm EDT

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PARIS (Reuters) - Take 15 well-known French theatre and film actors, add a classic Greek legend and voila, you have the makings of the latest Cannes offering from French director Alain Resnais.

"Vous N'Avez Encore Rien Vu" (You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet) is an art-house film within a film that relies heavily on its ensemble cast, whose members include Sabine Azema, Pierre Arditi, Anne Consigny and Lambert Wilson.

It is one of a handful of French-language movies in competition for the film festival's top prize, the Palme d'Or, to be awarded on Sunday.

You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet is based on Jean Anouilh's play Eurydice, which in turn is based on the classic Greek legend of Orpheus, in which the young musician unsuccessfully tries to save his lover Eurydice from the underworld.

The 89-year-old Resnais is a lion of French cinema with six decades of film making under his belt whom Cannes honored with a lifetime achievement award in 2009.

The themes of memory and time, and plots that rely on interwoven narratives crop up again and again in his works, whose best known include his first feature, "Hiroshima Mon Amour" (Hiroshima My Love), and the concentration camp documentary "Nuit et Brouillard" (Night and Fog).

In You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet, Resnais has his cast play themselves as they reunite at the home of a deceased director (Denis Podalydes) with whom they had worked in the past on "Eurydice." His final wish is for them to view a film of a young troupe performing the play.

As the actors watch, snippets of dialogue they once had memorized comes back to them, and they gradually inhabit the roles themselves.

"The actors are portraying themselves in the film, they reminisce and remember their past," Resnais told a news conference, speaking in French. "Suddenly, while they're playing their parts, they're caught up in the ghosts, the phantoms of their memories."

Early reaction to the film was tepid, with several critics and bloggers citing the director's formal style which held any emotional connection with the characters at bay.

The Guardian called it an "indulgent, self-conscious film about acting, memory and the persistence of the past."

"Like a lot of Resnais's recent work it mounts an interesting challenge to the realist consensus of cinema, to the convention that we must pretend that what is being played out on screen is actually happening," read the review.

"But despite its moments of charm and caprice, the film is prolix, inert, indulgent and often just plain dull."

Resnais said he has been interested for years in the relationship between theatre and film, a connection that plays out in the movie as sets resemble stages, and vice versa.

"We see where the differences are but it seems to me that there is something great that can bring theatre and cinema closer together and that's the need for actors," Resnais told the press.

Actress Sabine Azema, Resnais' wife who plays one of three Eurydices in the film, said the strong cast her husband gathered together was one of the film's strengths.

"They know that they're free to invent, and that's why Resnais chose them, that's what he's waiting for them to do. I wonder whether it's his talent for organizing the group that I admire most in him," Azema told French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur.

(Reporting By Alexandria Sage)

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