SAME OLD SONG / ON CONNAÎT LA CHANSON

Same Old Song / On connaît la chanson
d. Alain Resnais / France / 1997 / 120 mins
Viewed at: Lecture Theatre 3 @ UEA (Norwich, UK)

An open homage (and worthy tribute) to pop-dramatist Dennis Potter, crafted by Alain Resnais – cinematic dark horse and homme à part of the French Nouvelle VagueSame Old Song is a whimsical romp narrated via chanson moderne and a host of other quintessentially Gallic pop.

Tracing the intricate web of modern life, Same Old Song portrays the lives of six middle-class Parisians as a tangle of tenuous links and criss-crossing history/s. Resnais utilizes popular French song to evoke both the internal and the external thoughts and feelings of his ensemble, thus exploring concepts of self-image and the manner in which we all present ourselves to the outside world, from the personæ we inhabit to the white lies we tell.

Borrowing heavily from Potter, particularly the key musical stylisation of the BBC series Pennies from Heaven (which Potter adapted into an ill-fated 1981 film for MGM starring Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters), Same Old Song also draws upon a host of Potteresque themes – especially the collision of fantasy and reality and the heavy mediation of personal expression. Of course, each of these themes remain – along with the confrontation between conditional memory and ‘the imaginary’ – typical of Resnais’ own 60-something years of filmmaking.

As well as Potter, Same Old Song owes a debt to earlier works by some of Resnais’ Nouvelle Vague contemporaries, with the playful cut and paste approach feeling very much like a nod to Jean-Luc Godard’s own treatment of music – and popular culture and counter-culture – throughout the 1960s.

Resnais (and his on- and off-screen collaborators, husband and wife duo Agnès Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri) extend this playful approach to the history of the songs themselves, relegating what is perhaps the most famous French song – the Édith Piaf standard Non, je ne regrette rien – to a incidental conversation between a pair of otherwise meaningless characters in a restaurant.

To the uninitiated (of which I’ll readily admit to being one), a modern musical constructed around a host of popular French songs is probably not something you’d expect from the seemingly po-faced director of Nuit et brouillard (Night and Fog, 1955), Hiroshima mon amour (1959) and L’Année dernière à Marienbad (Last Year at Marienbad, 1961).

And yet it forms something of a cycle of Resnais films over the last twenty years (including a pair of Alan Ayckbourn adaptations and a filmed version of the Barde/Yvain 1925 operetta, Pas sur la bouche), which seem to suggest the veteran director is becoming more light-hearted in his twilight years. Resnais’ increasingly playful approach to narrative, as well as the very medium of filmmaking (and film-watching), is no more apparent than in his most recent feature – and 2009 Cannes selection – Les herbes folles (The Wild Grass).

I was so totally, utterly enamored by this film that it’s hard to know what else to write about it, maybe its time to let this beguilingly rapturous film speak/sing for itself (sans subtitles, sadly):

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