Alain Resnais has forged a hugely successful career that has had, running through it, an exploration of memory and the past. Having lost none of the experimental edge of his formative years, the French auteur returns to these themes once again for his latest film, You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet (Vous n’avez encore rien vu, 2012), a purposely artificial adaptation of two Jean Anouilh plays; Eurydice and Dear Antoine. An intriguing opening sequence sees a variety of well-known French actors (among them Mathieu Amalric and Michel Picolli) informed that a mutual friend, Antione d’Anthac (Denis Podalydés), is dead.
They are called to his vast mansion where loyal manservant Marcellin (Andrzej Seweryn) cues a video. Here, the deceased appears and introduces a recorded rehearsal of a modern interpretation of his seminal play, Eurydice. The cohort had all appeared in the play during their careers and is now being asked, as he cannot, to decide if this new version is of any merit. As the video roles, however, the assembled actors cannot help but speak long-forgotten lines and play their parts along with the youngsters on screen.
In an attempt to rail against the realism of modern cinema, the playful Resnais strips away all notion of character from his cast. These famous actors ostensibly play themselves, yet really they are present to portray thespians and nothing more. What matters to the revered director is the relationship between an actor and the roles that they have played – and consequently, our connections to the past and the myriad emotions expressed when recalling it. We are reminded of the artifice of the entire experience with the mansion in which they sit – quite blatantly an artificial set. Once the play has begun, the action flits from the actors on the recording to the enthralled audience sat on black sofas in front of it.
The primary players are powerless to stop themselves speaking along remembered lines and as the performance progresses, the more involved they become. Their own take on Eurydice visits various different sets to stage different scenes switching from one version of Orpheus and Eurydice (played by Azema and Pierre Arditi) to another (Lambert Wilson and Anne Cosigny) during conversation. This could all be read as showing the various interpretations of actors, and almost certainly as a paean to theatre which Resnais hates to see disconnected from cinema.
Whilst it is of constant interest, what You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet ultimately lacks is an emotional connection. This is largely due to the actors having no character of their own and so the audience having no way to empathise with the effect of these memories. In a film that tells the story of doomed lovers, some more emotion may have helped a great deal. As it is, this is one for the mind, not so much for the heart.