The Museum of the Moving Image’s Alain Resnais retro, in its final weekend, screens 1997’s Same Old Song tomorrow at 4:30pm.
Resnais’s exploration of the musical comedy as a vehicle for emotions erupting mid-dialogue—as pop songs, lip-synced by characters—with frivolous objective triggers: beauty and silliness are their own objects. But Resnais’s grounding of these narrative frills in a slight comedy of manners on-location in 90s Paris conceives naturalism as its own art and artifice. Like all Resnais’s films, it’s a portrait of consciousness mired in dull routine and extraordinary feeling, spinning facts and fiction as equal possibilities for each other. As in Marienbad, the characters are puppets to a collective dream, and like in Toute la mémoire du monde, they’re individual texts onto a worldbank of knowledge. But here this collective mind and embodied imagination thinks mostly of money and bobo hauteur, and mostly imagines hit singles.
The modern disjunctions—naturalism vs. musical; objective vs. subjective—becomes less disruptive as it starts to appear the characters have conceived their lives in a classical movie’s image as much as the movie’s conceived them for its purposes of classical dramaturgy. As in Marienbad, there’s some question whether they’ve willed these visions, or whether these visions have willed them, but Resnais’s indication that they’re victims to their own social fantasies is in perfect keeping with classical farce, as is the neat mix-and-match between couples whose personalities are branded at the start and ciphers by the end. And yet, however caustic seems the sight of a millionaire gushing arias for an obstructed skyline, his spasmodic lament is treated poker-faced: the fantasies are the audience’s, if not before then by now in sympathizing with the man on-screen, and Resnais offers no point of privilege from which to judge his world knowingly. As this nouveau riche sings a cocktail dirge for a brutalist high-rise, Resnais’s achievements converge: his treatment of men as inanimate puppets, their treatment of buildings and texts as living organisms, and another elevated ode to Real Estate, architecture, as the synchronic matchmaker determining the habits men live by.