Movie review: The play’s the thing in ‘You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet’

“You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet”
Pierre Arditi and Sabine Azéma in “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet.”
(F Comme Films)

Relax, classic rock fans, “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” is not a movie inspired by the stuttery old Bachman-Turner Overdrive hit. What it is, however, is a crafty, brainy and uniquely stirring concoction, directed by enduring, now 91-year-old French filmmaker Alain Resnais (“Hiroshima, Mon Amour"; “Last Year at Marienbad,” “Stavisky”), that effectively unites a who’s who of Gallic acting talent, including such past Resnais collaborators as Michel Piccoli, Sabine Azéma (the director’s wife), Anny Duperey and Mathieu Amalric.

The screenplay, credited to Laurent Herbiet and Alex Réval (Resnais’ alias), based on the Jean Anouilh plays “Eurydice” and “Cher Antoine ou l’amour Rate,” finds a group of notable actors, all playing themselves, requested by the butler of suddenly deceased playwright Antoine d’Anthac (Denis Podalydès) to gather, “Clue"-like, at the writer’s country chateau. The purpose: to evaluate a recently recorded rehearsal of D’Anthac’s — not Anouilh’s — play titled “Eurydice” as performed by an experimental theater company. That all of the invitees have appeared in D’Anthac’s tragic drama at some point in their careers is a commonality that will prove unexpectedly resonant.

What begins as a simple, video screen viewing by the guests of this latest take on D’Anthac’s “Eurydice” evolves into a play within a play within a movie (and, at times, more) as the veteran actors start performing the show alongside or in place of the videotaped cast, poignantly re-creating the same roles they once had as their younger selves.

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It’s all way more fluid and seamless — and less gimmicky — than it may sound. As the four-act play progresses, the “live” actors do most of the heavy lifting, disappearing, amid gorgeous stage lighting and a few surreally appearing sets, into the stage work’s heady text involving the brief romance between ill-fated, mythically inspired lovers Eurydice and Orpheus. Two sets of actors — one middle-aged (Anne Consigny and Lambert Wilson), one older (Azèma and Pierre Arditi) — alternate with their videotaped counterparts as they deftly reenact the play’s lead couple.

Resnais’ occasional use of split-screen and other traditional special effects enhances the picture’s various dualities, dreamy quality and decided staginess. Not unlike Joss Whedon’s recent reimagining of “Much Ado About Nothing,” there’s a puckish, just-go-with-it quality to the inventive proceedings but the end result here is far more moving and meditative.

While “You Ain’t” is a film for specialized audiences — and patience is certainly required — it provides a front-row seat to watch superb actors, also including Hippolyte Girardot, Jean-Noël Brouté, Gérard Lartigau, Michel Robin and Jean-Chrétien Sibertin-Blanc, and, of course, a world-class director strut their stuff in rare and, yes, rarefied form.



‘You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet’

MPAA rating: Unrated

Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

Language: In French with English subtitles

Playing: At Laemmle’s Royal, West Los Angeles; Laemmle’s Town Center 5, Encino; Laemmle’s Playhouse 7, Pasadena