Which brings us at length to the fluky storyline: a snatched purse; a found wallet; a desire on the part of the finder to see destiny at work, to make something momentous of the moment, to expect more than a mere thank-you when the wallet is returned to its owner (“You disappoint me”); a growing obsession; a contagion of lunacy; and a final twist of fate, a stuck zipper in the lavatory. Traces of Patricia Highsmith or Ruth Rendell can be detected in the way the situation develops (one of Highsmith’s lesser novels, Found in the Street, in fact begins with a found wallet), and the dark irrationality of the characters, the transfer of madness from the stalker to the stalked, will present no difficulty to fans of those authors, or for that matter fans of Resnais. Viewers who look for tidy “motivation” and “consistency” in their fictional characters will experience rougher waters. The film unfolds, furthermore, not with the oppressive ominousness of a thriller, nor with the bubbly optimism of a romantic comedy (it is often funny, but then so are the thrillers of Highsmith and Rendell), but instead with a tenor and tone sui generis, something uncertain and unconventional, something that could go either way, neither heavy nor light, serious and yet mischievous. All of the artifice, or the artificiality, of the presentation serves not to create an air of unreality, but rather to enlarge our definition of reality. People are like this, it suggests; they are not what they look like. They’re unfathomably more.
My own response to this twisted tale was to find it immediately gripping and gradually loosening, the “wildness” of the characters wilder than it needed to be to make the point, less surprising as it becomes more hypothetical, more didactic. And as for the implications of the final shots (earlier in life? a later life? a parallel life?) — well, I’ll want to see the film a second time. While I yield to no one in my admiration for the artist, I’m not sure I can match some of the blurbs I’ve been reading. “Masterpiece.” “Sublime.” “Ravishing.” Not, I would prefer to say, among his several masterpieces, but a unique combination of elements, unlike anything he or anyone else has done before, it is simply another Resnais film not to be missed. And an uncommonly easy one not to miss. ■