Adapted from two plays by Jean Anouilh, it starts with the announcement of a death. Antoine d'Anthac, a celebrated dramatist, has unexpectedly passed away. A group of actors convene at his remote hillside home to pay their respects. While there, they are asked to watch a video performance of his most famous play (in fact, Anouilh's Eurydice, based on the myth in which Orpheus descends into the underworld to rescue his beloved from the clutches of death). But as they do so, they themselves become involved in the performance, slipping back into roles that they know well from having played them in the past.
As a set-up, it's certainly very intriguing. It also touches on some interesting and unusual themes. There's a sense that, without the playwright's creative input, the actors are almost like ghosts; that only through the medium of his art can they truly experience what it is like to be alive. And, with three pairs of actors of different ages taking turns in the key roles of Orpheus and Eurydice, the film demonstrates how the written text is remade anew by each performer.
The problem is, all this post-modern flashiness makes it nigh impossible to follow the play-within-the-film. Yes, you can keep pace with it on a basic, tick-off-the-plot-points level, but any emotional engagement goes out of the window – surely something of a drawback for a piece that is about the fidelity of two lovers, in life and death. Maybe it's different for a French audience more familiar with Anouilh and better attuned to his rather speechifying brand of dialogue, but for a British audience, it's likely to be a struggle.
That said, the film is shot very stylishly, and it features some impassioned performances from an impressive cast that includes the veteran Michel Piccoli, ultra-smooth Lambert Wilson (Sahara, The Matrix Reloaded) and ex-Bond villain Mathieu Amalric (Quantum of Solace, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly). It's also bound to be of great interest to anyone studying Anouilh. And for admirers of Resnais, it's wonderful to see the genius behind Last Year in Marienbad still making movies well into his nineties.