You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet : a strange rendez-vous
by Fabien Lemercier
21/05/2012 - It's mirrors and Russian dolls for the playful French filmmaker Alain Resnais (89) who today presented the 20th feature in a very full career in competition at the 65th Cannes Film Festival. It's a film whose title is a challenge to time and to film research: You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet [trailer]. And the promise is kept with a brilliant stylistic exercise with a fascinating concept : developing the same story on several interconnecting narrative strata. No (or little) need for special effects for Resnais who is sitting on a very theatrical chair, another echo of the plot which has at its heart Jean Anouilh's play Euridyce, in other words the theme of love and death.
Full of clever ideas, the film starts with a scene which serves as the opening credits, as 13 actors using their own names receive the same phone message : "I am calling you with some sad news. Antoine has died". The 13 of them are called to the opening of his will in a small isolated village and a text announces that "when they had passed the bridge, the ghosts came to meet them". A butler in fact puts them in front of a big screen on which appears the deceased (Denis Podalydès). We discover that the 13 characters have all played Antoine d'Anthac's Euridyce at different ages and times and he invites them to judge a recording of the rehearsals of a young theatre group. The film starts and the actors sitting in the comfortable sofas facing the screen echo the lines, anticipate them, say them in synchrony, respond to each other until little by little they are acting together with the actors on screen. As in reality there are two Orpheus (Pierre Arditi and Lambert Wilson) and two Eurydices (Sabine Azéma and Anne Consigny), without counting those on screen, the possibilities multiply and the play continues in mirrors and in a deafening story-within-a-story.
The three performances of the two main characters are also from three different generations, whereas the other characters are "simply" duplicated from the screen to the "reality" in which Mathieu Amalric delightfully embodies Death, Michel Piccoli as Orpheus' father or Hippolyte Girardot as a poisonous manager. Because the play is also about the theatre, since a theatre company is in transit in a train station where Euridyce meets Orpheus. Love, doubt, jealousy, destiny, weight of the past and of the pain hanging over this world ("Are you good? Are you bad ?") and which is hard to escape, death, journey into the darkest depths to save loved ones… The myth of Orpheus covers all these fundamental questions of life and death, the Beast waiting for its time backstage. Death challenges hope ("you have a thirst for eternity, but you are green with terror") and sends Orpheus to his meeting in an olive grove…
Using big stage decorations with no studio to reinforce the theatrical effect, Alain Resnais plays with this mechanic in which the viewer immerses himself after some time to adapt. Wonderfully edited and acted, the film even has a go at special effects : screen split in two which lets us experience the same scene of the play performed by two actors playing the same character and giving the line to just one actor in the middle, "split screen" with four windows, vanishing characters who suddenly become invisible… So many subtle games with mirrors which make You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet (written by Laurent Herbiet and Alex Réval) a work of great intellectual and cinematographic class, even though this abstraction and the concept itself can leave you cold, keeping emotions at a distance.
(Translated from French)