by Ryland Walker Knight
[The Resnais series playing at the PFA this November and December is part of a broader, traveling retrospective with a concurrent run in Chicago at the Gene Siskel Film Center and a proposed stop at the newly renovated Museum of the Moving Image in early 2010.]
Perhaps Alain was trying to one-up that left-bank homunculus, Sartre, with this one, a time travel loop where the only exit is that prior end game choice that landed our monad-man with the guinea pig gig in the first place. It's a frisbee film, a breeze built on repetition, one gesture lazing into another laser. It's a gimmick, for sure, all this jumbling, but the conceit is rather perfect; and the opening fifteen minutes, before Claude Rich's Claude Ridder (Claude Raubois in the war) falls asleep in that pod, caper a quick route through jokes of hurt to get us into the "science" part of this "science fiction." Rich-Ridder tried suicide and failed, so a cloaked commune of scientists pick him for their first human sent through their pod of time, a blob of wiring and indeterminate shape. The plan is for our man in the middle to return one year into his past for exactly one minute. The plan fails, like the suicide, but it succeeds as well as suicide, trapping Rich-Ridder in a mosaic of moments. Some moments repeat. His woman, Catrine (the doomed beauty Olga Georges-Picot you see above), never looks happy. The pair play then dig at each other; he's mostly a jerk. We get more information as varied threads reappear and expose more history. The film shifts from frisbee to football, a calfskin of guilt, though it's never quite oppressive—just sad. Its hopping turns to treading, folds the simultaneous around a rubber-band ball of ignobility. And there's Rich-Ridder, placid, both vessel and detective. And that's us, peering on, piecing together a jigsaw we can't get a handle on: all we see are seams.