RECOMMENDED VIEWING: You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet

Film: You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet (Vous n’avez encore rien vu)

Director: Alain Resnais

Cast: Pierre Arditi, Sabine Azema, Lambert Wilson (with Mathieu Amalric, Anne Consigny, and Michel Piccoli)

“Orpheus with his Lute made Trees,
And the Mountaine tops that freeze,
Bow themselves when he did sing…
In sweet Musicke is such Art,
Killing care, and griefe of heart,
Fall asleepe, or hearing dye.”

William Shakespeare

Ancients Revisit an Ancient Myth and Lose Themselves in it Once More

Before dying, a director has left his butler with detailed instructions: He’s to invite a group of older actors to view a video of a new performance of a play of his, a play in which they’ve all performed at one time or another. The videotaped play is performed by his new young acting company, La Compagnie de la Colombe. The older actors are supposed to critique the play, but instead they start acting it out themselves.

Alain Resnais was 89 when he directed this film. One of the few living progenitors of the French New Wave, his meditation on the myth of Eurydice and Orpheus is astoundingly original and insightful.

The lovers in the film-within-the-film are desperately seeking their true selves—in art, in music, in pleasure, in ideas, in love—but they find themselves only to abandon themselves. Classic narcissists, they don’t know who they are, and when they encounter their true selves they’re ready to die.

In the original myth, Eurydice is stung by a viper. Serpents appear often in hero myths, usually symbolizing the danger the hero faces in thinking of himself as bigger than life—entitled to rise above morality and obligations—and a failure to trust fate.

The women who play Eurydice are fraught with anxiety, shame, and a desperate paranoia of anything from the outside that might threaten the love relationship. Their love for each other is so insular, so exclusive, and so defensive that it threatens its own fruition. It’s this paranoia that leads to Eurydice’s demise.

Resnais and co-writer Laurent Herbiet used material from two plays by Jean Anouilh—Eurydice and Cher Antoine ou l’Amour rate as the basis for this film. For the play seen on the screen, the one the actors are viewing, Resnais asked director Bruno Podalydès to direct it independently in order to maintain a distinction between his own direction and that of the film-within-the-film. This made the results harder to control, but ultimately all the more exciting.

In a universe where human beings are underlings of a destiny they can’t control, illusion is a popular means of diversion. Illusion can be a good thing as long as it gives only a temporary respite from a truth we don’t deny. Illusion can’t, however, become our shield in the face of our own existential struggles.

The actors are too self-absorbed to really pay attention to the play before them, but in the end what they think of as “self” is only a mist that arrives and is quickly burned away. They reveal a very deep attachment to the play itself rather than to the performance, seeing the play as a means of finding their true selves. The play is their only shot at immortality. The onion’s layers are peeled off to reveal simply more layers and in the end, nothing.

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