One of those grimy revenge dramas in which the filmmaker seems to be asking if the rewards of revenge are worth the costs, further complicated by the revenge-seeker getting his facts wrong. The way Denis parcels out information in context-free fragments, I don’t blame the guy for being confused.

Vincent Lindon (Friday Night) is back in town (after fleeing his family to be a sailor) because his sister Sandra’s husband has killed himself, and their daughter Justine (Lola Créton of Bluebeard and Goodbye First Love) is receiving medical attention for a horrible sexual assault. He sells all his possessions for cash, and goes after the guy he assumes is to blame for all this, the dead guy’s former business partner Michael Subor.

So Vincent gets involved with Subor’s younger wife Raphaelle (Chiara Mastroianni of Love Songs, A Christmas Tale). Subor realizes this, takes their son and splits, saying she needs to get away from that awful family – and in the final confrontation, Vincent struggles with Subor and Raphaelle shoots Vincent dead. It’s just as well. Turns out Justine’s dead father was responsible for her abuse, aided by a slimy (pimp? drug dealer?) played by Gregoire Colin of 35 Shots of Rum. Justine kills Colin and herself in a car crash. The movie had a few asthetic pleasures, but story seemed more sordid than usual, and I ended up angry with everyone involved (except Alex Descas, who only has a cameo).

Apparently inspired by Kurosawa’s The Bad Sleep Well. R. Koehler says “it marries her interest in narrative jumps, classical tragedy” and “the workings of capitalism.”

The Venice Film Festival posted 70-ish short films online to commemorate their 70th anniversary. I watched them gradually over the past year. These are the ones I did not care for. Favorites are here and the rest here.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Visual: driving straight road in the rain through wipers
Audio: ocean with seagulls

Jean-Marie Straub

Single silent shot of pages relaying some quotes about death in a couple of French films.

Lluís Galter

Fuzzy slow-mo long shots of people near water.

Karim Aïnouz

Search party? Man in orange vest with flashlight helmet vanishes into mist.

Bernardo BertolucciRed Shoes

Electric Wheelchair drives over rough street.

Amos Gitai

Still photos of a man on beach crossfade while Jeanne Moreau speaks of a poem (or perhaps not literally a poem).

Lav Diaz

Handheld shot through an upper-floor window as an elderly person slowly walks down the street, then a poetic voiceover kicks in.

Todd Solondz

Ridiculous course catalog of a Chinese film history program 1000 years in the future, using an early-80’s-looking screen with early-90’s-sounding text-to-speech.

Marlen KhutsievIn Perpetuum Infinituum

Chekhov and Tolstoy are having a motion-picture portrait taken. Then: champagne, war footage, a brass band and a giant Viva Cinema intertitle.

Tobis LindholmThe Hit

Two camoflaged jeeps are driving. Bomb!

Claire Denis

Overheard conversation gives way to a noisy Tindersticks song. Is it that she can’t be bothered to find new music, or does she truly love Tindersticks that much? Camera seems to be inside a bag or under a scarf – I’m not convinced this short was even made on purpose.

Rama Burshtein

Man is told to open his mouth. Finally he does. A dance song plays. Hunh?

Semih KaplanogluDevran

Static shot of – what’s that, a tree? – with audio of thunderstorm and constant firefly flicker.

Franco Piavoli

Fire and yelling, then children and sunsets.

Amiel Courtin-Wilson

Rough-looking man plays a prolonged Amazing Grace on harmonica in close-up.

Tusi Tamasese

Stills of some leaves, then of two people doing… I don’t know what, since it’s over already.

Michele PlacidoYorick’s Speech

Old guy says the youth of today are the future of filmmaking while a banal pop song plays.

Julio Bressane

Silent 16mm clips, then clips from 1960’s period epics, something like that.

A young white woman named France (Mereille Perrier of Boy Meets Girl) hitching rides through Cameroon flashes back to when she was young and Isaach de Bankole used to feed her ants. Her dad (Francois Cluzet of Chabrol’s L’Enfer) was a colonialist governor and Protee (Bankole) their house servant.

Protee and mom:

When dad attends to local and distant affairs, France and mom (Giulia Boschi) and Protee stay home showing each other displays of power and hidden attraction. A nearby missionary is having a difficult time because lions have killed all his farm animals. The house chef pretends to consult his cookbook, but can’t read.

Young France:

Finally a Big Event: a plane crash-lands nearby and the pilot and passengers stay with the family while getting parts and repairs. Their stay causes all sorts of racial tension. A self-important coffee-grower has a weird relationship with his black housekeeper. One of the white passengers works on the plane with the black locals, eventually starts sleeping and bathing outside, getting on Protee’s nerves. Some of the passengers are more blatantly, vocally racist than the family is used to. Protee is kicked out of the house, plays a weird trick on the little girl where they both end up with their palms burned.

Older France:

Senses of Cinema: “a semi-autobiographical film that functions as a political allegory examining gender, age and colonial relationships.”

Raised by missionaries into a white colonialist culture, removed from his cultural and racial heritage and emasculated by the domestic duties he performs, Protee is a liminal figure trapped between two cultures. This is clearly signified by the arrival of Luc (Jean-Claude Adelin), a young lapsed priest who lives, eats and showers outside like the native servants. Luc threatens Protee, upsets the fragile equanimity, and induces Aimee’s betrayal of Protee and in turn Protee’s betrayal of France. This moment of betrayal explains the transformation in France’s gaze from the innocence and intensity of a child to the cynical wary gaze of an adult remembering and re-examining a complicated past.

A simple story with just a few main characters, which Denis lovingly photographs, obscures and abstracts. Unlike many of her others, it’s almost immediately easy to grasp this one’s character relationships, which may account for its higher reputation than her later films, or probably it’s just this one’s timing, exploding her international festival/critical reputation. Not that I mean to be ungenerous to Beau Travail – it’s terrific, and must have one of the best film endings of the 90’s.

Based on Herman Melville’s story Billy Budd. Commandant Michael Subor (The Intruder) leads a French foreign legion camp in Djibouti. Denis Lavant (Lovers on the Bridge) is training a bunch of men. But Lavant feels that he’s losing authority to new guy Gregoire Colin (35 Shots of Rum), so he looks for an opportunity to strike back. That was my interpretation anyway, but looking through comments of other filmed versions of Billy Budd, it seems that his motivation is never quite clear. Either way, he sends Colin on a doomed hike through the desert. Presumed to have killed the recruit (we later see Colin gettin rescued), Lavant is dismissed from the armed forces and set to be court-martialed. And just when you’re wondering why cast the great Denis Lavant as an immobile authority figure, he breaks out into a crazy awesome fantasy-sequence dance.

Doesn’t seem to follow the novel’s plot too closely – in the book, Budd is executed for accidentally killing a superior officer, while here he saves a man and kills nobody. The book was turned into a famous opera, and Denis uses songs from that instead of her usual Tindersticks. Mostly, she turns the story into an abstract dance of bodies in the desert, with emotions felt rather than explained.

J. Rosenbaum:

The fact that [Subor] is named after the hero of Jean-Luc Godard’s Le petit soldat and played by the same actor almost 40 years later adds a suggestive thread… Most of all, Denis, who spent part of her childhood in Djibouti, captures the poetry and atmosphere — and, more subtly, the women — of Africa like few filmmakers before her.

Beautiful Daiga (Yekaterina Golubeva, mysterious sister/lover of Pola X) has emigrated from Lithuania to Paris and is looking for a place to stay and work. Theo (Alex Descas, father in 35 Shots of Rum) is a struggling musician, and his brother Camille (Richard Courcet) a transvestite dancer. One of these three people might be connected to the serial “Granny Killer” who has been terrorizing Paris for a while.

Theo is from Martinique, married to Mona (Beatrice Dalle of The Intruder, also an intruder in Inside). Their relationship issues provide a solid center to the murder mystery plot – turns out Camille and his lover Raphael are the wanted criminals, killing old women and robbing their apartments for money to party.

Sort of like 35 Shots of Rum, following a few characters, you gradually realize who they are and how they know each other, more grounded and straightforward than The Intruder or Trouble Every Day – only instead of ending with a wedding, it ends with two guys being locked up.

Senses of Cinema provides a handle on many of her films: “Denis continues to explore the legacy of colonial and post-colonial societies by concentrating upon shared experiences of displacement – through an ensemble of characters who are struggling to find, return to or willfully create a sense of home, possibility, passion, belonging.”

I also watched her nine-minute segment from A Propos de Nice the following year, tragically entitled Nice, Very Nice. Young Denis regular Gregoire Colin is snatched off the sidewalk by some guys he knows, given a gun and an apparently convincing speech (we don’t hear it – there’s no spoken dialogue). Colin stops at the beach to think, then heads through a parade to a restaurant, where he finds and kills his man. The plot seems like an excuse to film the parade.

Another freewheeling Rivette film, with its 16mm look and protagonists running throughout the city of Paris in the midst of a game with ill-defined rules, seeking to unveil a conspiracy, like a scaled-down Out 1.

Two girls meet on the street, run around a Paris that seems to be populated only by themselves and various conspirators, and get caught in a game, possibly of their own making. There’s more energized music than usual for Rivette, with drums and accordion and strings. Whirling camera, 360-degree pans, many shots of local monuments also recall Out 1, specifically its final shot. But this film has a lighter touch, also bringing to mind Celine & Julie Go Boating, with its playfulness and our heroines’ mysterious bond to each other. The dialogue is a bit new-age, the actions are somewhat improv-theater, it seems to have been shot entirely in real locations, and perhaps in a hurry, since I caught the boom mic a few times.

Films in the film:

Knife-wielding Pascale vs. Kurosawa’s Kagemusha:

The Silent Scream, a spooky mansion flick:

The Big Country with Gregory Peck – in French it’s called “Wide Open Spaces”, as Pascale leads the claustrophobic Bulle into the theater for the night, to sleep close enough to the screen that she can’t see the walls

And on the way out of the theater…

Bulle Ogier stars in her fifth Rivette film along with Pascale Ogier, Bulle’s daughter, who also starred in a Rohmer movie and something called Ghost Dance before dying of a heart attack at age 26. Bulle, just out of prison, has a crippling claustrophobia and cannot step indoors, not even into a glass-enclosed phone booth, without feeling ill. Pascale, apparently homeless, hears Bulle’s story of getting caught up with the wrong crowd and sets out to keep it from happening again, tailing Bulle’s boyfriend Julien (Pierre Clementi of The Conformist, The Inner Scar).

Pascale seems to be on to something – they steal Julien’s briefcase and discover all sorts of newspaper articles about kidnappings and killings, and also a map of Paris that has been sectioned off in a spiral pattern which reminds Bulle of a “very frightening game” she used to play called the Goose game. They find a sort of key to the map on a murdered man in a cemetery and start to identify the “trap squares” in the game, beginning with places they’ve already been: Prison and the Tomb, then they proceed to play Paris like a game, hoping to survive all the trap squares and win the game.

Besides Julien, they keep running into a balding man (Jean-Francois Stevenin, the teacher in Small Change), who sometimes seems to be a companion of Julien’s and sometimes schemes with the girls independently of Julien, warning Bulle that the people responsible for sending her to prison are after her again. Pascale calls this man Max, her name for all the city’s conspirators. For example, when Bulle wonders about the explanation for the dead map-carrier in the cemetery, Pascale responds “The Max had a bullet in his guts – that’s the explanation.”

Discovering the murdered, bewigged Max

Each “trap” location presents a new challenge. At one, Pascale, who has a compulsion to carve the eyes out of advertising posters, is faced with a whole wall of those. At another, Pascale is in a fight with a white-haired Max who leaves her in a giant cobweb until rescued by Bulle, and at a third Pascale has to defeat a giant dragon, played by some sort of amusement-park ride with an added flamethrower.

While Pascale lives in this fantasy Paris, Bulle’s adventure seems more real and dangerous – she’s given a gun by Julien and keeps having to figure out whose side she’s on. Of course once a gun is introduced into the movie, someone has to get shot. Pascale kills a Max and seems unrepentant, and then Julien kills Bulle, telling her “I loved you.” But the movie’s sympathies have turned towards the inner life of Pascale – she meets Max on a bridge over the river, and they spar together, appropriately practicing “Katta – a combat against imaginary enemies.”

I was tempted to see the sparring scene above as evidence that Pascale was working alongside the Maxes all along, but no, I think she’s just an erratic character. Anyway, it wouldn’t have taken a city-wide conspiracy including Pascale to defeat the fragile Bulle.

Good one by F. Ziolkowski:

Marie’s belief in a great love with Julien, the real at the end of her quest, will eventually be fatal for her. It is Baptiste’s ability to “roll with the punches” which will perhaps save her, but at what cost? As one of the Maxes puts her through a karate exercise and tells her to fend off “imaginary enemies,” the cross-hairs of a surveillance device (a rifle scope? a camera?) appear on the screen. “They” are now being watched by others, perhaps simply by us. That is, it may be that the answer to the riddle of the labyrinth — its last door — is simply the screen on which the actors’ shadows appear.

The movie got a hateful review in the Times, and was even dismissed by Senses of Cinema. Fortunately it’s not my job to analyze its quality in relation to other Rivette films, or even other films in general – I was just along for the ride, which I enjoyed.

Insight from J. Rosenbaum:

The file of clippings concerns specific scandals of the Giscard d’Estaing regime, and the locations refer to various municipal corruptions associated with that period (e.g., the ruins of slaughterhouses in La Villette which were built and then demolished before they could be used, due to safety hazards). Rivette has indicated that the film was made prior to the French elections and with the pessimistic expectations that the same regime would remain in power; so the unexpected election of Francois Mitterand obscured and blunted part of the film’s intended impact. Rivette conceived of Marie as a continuation of the anarchist character played by Bulle Ogier in Fassbinder’s The Third Generation (1979), after she gets out of prison. Her claustrophobia was occasioned by the film’s cut-rate budget, which led to the decision to shoot the film exclusively in exteriors.

Ziolkowski again:

[Paris] for the Surrealists was not only a magical place, it also became a living organism, a protagonist in its own right, complete with motivations, deaths, rebirths, etc. … The group’s fascination with the myth of the labyrinth led them to name their most prestigious and influential review Le Minotaure. … All the elements of Surrealism are here once again: the double, the lions of the Place Denfert-Rochereau which seem ready to spring to life at any moment, the mysterious stranger who crosses one’s path in the middle of the night.

Follow the gun.

From Julien…

… to Bulle …

… to Pascale

Julien again (different gun)

Rivette: “The idea was to refer to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Passing from the Parisian quartiers outward to the peripheral areas, within those zones that are slightly uncertain, but without ever leaving Paris. We also wanted to show everything that was in the process of being transformed, under construction.”

Bulle and Julien atop the Arc:


Paris s’en va (1981)

“Paris Goes Away,” a half-hour movie made from scenes and outtakes from Le Pont du Nord. A narrator tells us about the Goose Game, often repeating as the images also double back on themselves. It’s a mini-Spectre version of the feature, more lightweight, with more lingering shots of monuments and less danger and conspiracy. The narration seems to imply that Bulle’s flask is her game token. Rivette’s only other short that I’ve seen, Le Coup du berger, also referenced games, if that means anything.

Le Lion Volatil:

Pascale:

Bulle:


Jacques Rivette, Le Veilleur (1990, Claire Denis)

“Artists have a portion of basic villainy, even the greatest of them.”

Agnes Godard (still Denis’s cinematographer two decades later on 35 Shots of Rum) shoots critic Serge Daney (he took over Cahiers after the Bazin/Rohmer era) in conversation with Rivette, in Parisian cafes and fields. Divided into two parts, “I – Day” and “II – Night.”

“Do we see his painting or not?” Jacques discusses preliminary thoughts on Le Belle Noiseuse before he had worked out the story or approach. Le Pont du Nord gets the most discussion time, strange, since he’d made three movies since then (Love on the Ground doesn’t get a single mention). I wasn’t crazy about the music in Le Pont du Nord so I’m glad to hear that he spent very little time selecting it.

Rivette with Serge Daney:

I wouldn’t call it a great film (sorry, Claire Denis) but it’s a great interview/conversation, worth watching again, not like a throwaway DVD extra. Loooong shots include the silences between questions, perhaps in deference to Rivette’s own long-take style. He tells of his early years, first arriving in Paris, meeting up with Rohmer, Truffaut and Godard and going to work for Cahiers with Bazin. He discusses duration in a “post-Antonioni world,” saying movies used to have pre-determined beginnings and endings and filmmakers were free to fill the middle with events, but now it seems there are fewer rules and everything takes longer to say. When asked what he’s enjoyed lately in theaters he highly recommends a Sandrine Bonnaire film called Peau de Vache.

“I don’t want to separate, to split things up. I know a lot of filmmakers, whether consciously or not, who have this notion of splitting the body into bits. Not just the face, it can be the hand or any part of the body. I always want to see the body in its entirety. I don’t have the temperment, the taste or the talent to make heavily edited films. My films focus more on the continuity of events taken as a whole.”

Time out for an interview with Le Pont du Nord’s Max, Jean-Francois Stévenin, including his entire scene as Marlon in Out 1.

Rivette again: “My feeling is these people who have been affected [by his films], and who have these individual ways of showing that, they constitute a kind of widespread secret society. We’re obviously not talking about lots of people, unfortunately for the film producers!” He talks with his hands, striking wonderful poses.

In part 2, Bulle Ogier is along for the ride, interjecting a word or two, only getting the camera to herself for a few minutes.

Serge: “When you came back to earth with Pont du Nord in the early 80’s, it was with the feeling that we adapt to things as they are, we stop tempting fate or playing Prometheus and we come back to the real world. And we remember that the beginning of the 80’s were roaring, euphoric, entertaining – very explosive, in fact. And your film takes that on board. We can feel something quite intentional in the processes which make up Le Pond du Nord and allow you to tackle the 80’s.”

Rivette’s vogue poses:

Rivette:

It’s a time when we feel such a decision has been taken. Just as Bulle said at the end, ‘I’m alive.’ As far as I’m concerned, and I have the impression that, strangely, it concerns – I won’t say everyone, there are always exceptions – many filmmakers of my generation and subsequent generations. After Out, it seemed impossible in my films to talk about the contemporary world, what we call the real world, and at that time I wanted more than anything to work on fiction, fantasy fiction films. I didn’t shoot them all because the first project was, after Out and Celine & Julie, was a film we wanted to do with Jeanne Moreau [Bulle: “Phoenix.”] and Juliet Berto and Michel Lonsdale, which was a story based on the Sarah Bernhardt myth loosely mixed up with Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera. And what came next were stories that were all different with one thing in common: the total refusal of France in the seventies. It was something I suddenly didn’t want to see anymore. And after a series of events, more or less successful films – some were far from being completely successful, unfortunate films, at least Noroit and Merry Go Round were, that were hardly seen anywhere. They were shaky films, it’s true. When I went to see Bulle and said ‘We have to do another film together and I want to do it with you,’ it was the idea that we hadn’t put these bad times behind us, that they may well continue, and we had to come to terms with it but in order to do that we had to turn it into fiction, to put it in a film. And that’s why, in Pont de Nord there’s this insistence – that may appear anecdotal ten years after – on the affairs or scandals at the end of the seventies, such as the Debreuil affair or the suicide or non-suicide of Boulin or the killing of Mesrine, that sort of stuff. As symptoms, but strong symptoms. And we shot the film, at least from my point of view I began the film, not in this atmosphere of eighties euphoria we mentioned but with the impression of being in a country – France – that was stuck. Stuck, because of a lot of things we won’t go into here – everyone remembers. But it so happened that this feeling of being stuck was so strong that it brought about a certain unblocking.

More of a narrative than in 35 Shots of Rum, and more clearly defined than in The Intruder, but still with the shuffled chronology. It’s kind of an action thriller, though it undercuts the tension by showing us the fates of certain characters at the beginning. So, will Huppert make it to the village? Yes, because we’ve seen her future, days later catching a bus to the plantation. Will the boy with the spear kill her son Manuel as he floats in the pool? No, because we’ve seen his future, burning to death in a building. Not as softly sensual as some other Denis movies, the handheld motion-blur offering more eyestrain than intimacy.

The great Isabelle Huppert is Marie, who runs her aged father-in-law’s coffee plantation (he is Michel Subor, star of The Intruder) along with her relative (brother?) Christophe Lambert (who looks a lot like Christopher Lambert from Highlander and Mortal Kombat, only this guy is pretty good and speaks French) and her son Manuel – although I’m not saying Manuel helps run anything. He stays in bed all day, slowly going nuts. She’s strong and self-sufficient, works very hard for her coffee crop, but hers is the only white family for miles around their gated house with leather sofas, while the field workers live in a hot bunkhouse with a shared flashlight. So when rebels and military forces collide in town, neither is on her side. Isaach De Bankolé (Limits of Control, Casa de Lava) plays the most mysterious character, “The Boxer”, an inspiration to the rebels who is wounded from the start of the movie, arrives in secret at the coffee plantation and dies there of his wounds a day or two later.

Shot in Cameroon but set in an unnamed African country. I appreciated some of the similarities between this and other African-made films I’ve seen, such as portable radios being an important story element. Katy didn’t join me, somehow uninterested in a film featuring African children taking arms against colonialism. It’s probably my fault for spoiling her on Isabelle Huppert with Merci pour le chocolat and on Claire Denis with Friday Night, though I still don’t see why either of those should be disliked. I have a hard time finding serious foreign movies that she’ll enjoy. Nominated for the top prize at Venice, while 35 Shots of Rum, which I liked much better, wasn’t nominated for a damn thing.

Denis, asked why Huppert kills elder Subor with a machete at the end: “They’re both left, and I think she feels someone is responsible for letting everything happen. Maybe it’s weakness, or everyone’s blindness. But she needs to do something terrifying.”

Mubi: “Denis is too sexy to be considered disjunctive, but White Material is certainly her most jolting movie, since it traces the impression of a person experiencing nothing but breakdown—in bonds, in society, in people themselves—but somehow cannot see what is happening right in front of her. … Things like relationships and motivation all seem under-defined within such a clear-cut plot, but that may be because Marie’s fate is inescapable precisely because she can’t feel or see the nuance and meaning below the surface of her life. White Material keeps it on the surface precisely because that is the quintessential failure of its colonial heroine.”

Movie opens on a border patrolwoman (Florence Loiret Caille, the eaten maid in Trouble Every Day, also in Time of the Wolf), then moves to her husband (Grégoire Colin, upstairs neighbor in 35 Shots of Rum), then quickly to the husband’s father Louis (Michel Subor of Topaz, Anatomy of a Marriage, Le petit soldat) with whom it remains, more or less, for the duration.

image

Along the way we meet a pharmacist (attractively-freckled Bambou, best known for her relationship with Serge Gainsbourg) who sleeps with Louis, Louis’s dog-owning neighbor (Béatrice Dalle, cannibal Coré in Trouble Every Day, also in Clean and Inside), a sinister blonde woman (Katya Golubeva of Twentynine Palms, Pola X, I Can’t Sleep) who stalks him obsessively, and Louis’s ex in Tahiti who will not help him find his estranged son Tikki. Oh, “and Alex Descas,” proudly proclaims the opening credits, but he only appears in one scene, in close-up, as a priest.

image

Nobody I’ve talked to seems sure of exactly what happens in this movie. Much of that can be explained by the director’s comment that some of the characters don’t actually exist except in Louis’s imagination – I’m guessing that accounts for his blonde stalker, but I’m not sure who else. Louis abandons his dogs at his wintery shack in northern France, goes to Switzerland to withdraw piles of cash, negotiates the purchase of a ship in Korea, then heads to Tahiti to look for his son (not caring half as much about his other son in France). Along the way, probably in flashback, he gets a heart transplant in Russia, the memory of which seems related to the mysterious stalker. Oh, and back in France he kills somebody with the knife he always carries.

image

Guy from Tindersticks did the music without his band – it’s quiet and upsetting and wonderful. Played at Venice with 3-Iron, The World, Kings & Queen and The Sea Inside, but lost to Vera Drake. Between this movie and Trouble Every Day, I’m thinking the director of Martyrs could be a Claire Denis fan.

image

Story interpretations vary, although apparently it helps immensely to read the essay by Jean-Luc Nancy on which the script was based. In the DVD interview, Denis describes the physical feeling the book gave her, talks about the film being a vehicle for Michel Subor as much as an adaptation of the book. “My producer also was absolutely the most perfect producer for that film, but he was also suffering from a very severe depression, and he killed himself before we finished.” – this is the same producer who worked on The Man From London.

image

Carson:

The Intruder is loaded with Marxist Dialectics, the kind of suggestive cutting collisions that were pioneered by Sergei Eisenstein. A man describes a scene in the woods to his wife as a way of setting an erotic tone between the two of them, followed by a cut to the man’s father sitting amidst tall pine trees relaxing with his dogs. A priest speaks about the variety of immoral beings in the world, followed by a cut to the film’s blank protagonist, Louis Trebor. … In order to gather any semblance of narrative momentum, one has to look towards the way that the film is essentially divided into three parts, each comprised of a different locale, though not entirely limited to it, and connected by the theme of travel and intended self-renewal. … his lonely woodland cabin on the French-Swiss border, Pusan [South Korea], and Tahiti. … The film’s tempo steadily decreases … By the finale in Tahiti, The Intruder feels like a completely different work than what its opening anticipated. The shots lengthen, the soundtrack becomes quieter, comedic scenes appear, and Denis begins interspersing the action with footage from an unfinished 60’s film called Le Reflux, also set in Tahiti and starring Michel Subor.

image

Claire Denis in Senses of Cinema:

My films are not highly intellectual, and L’Intrus is like a boat lost in the ocean drifting, you know? I think that’s the way I picture it … Even if it’s the dream of a voyage, I think it was very important for me that the film offer the two sides of the globe, the north hemisphere and south hemisphere, as the two sides of the heart.

He’s not aware of the people still around who love him. He has no respect for that. The only woman he’s gentle to, the woman with the dogs played by Béatrice Dalle, it’s because she doesn’t care for him that he’s attracted by her beauty. I would imagine that if she would let him enter her house and open her heart to him, he would disrespect her immediately. So I think Trebor is not a very lovable man. Politically, I would say he represents everything I dislike in my country, this sort of selfish-solitude mentality … So I’m happy that he is condemned at the end: He is defeated, and I think it’s only fair. But it’s interesting to me that this main character is someone I do not respect. I understand I can suffer from his anxiety, but I don’t like him. When I wrote the script, I called him A Man With No Heart, a heartless man.

[Subor] had read the script and I gave him those new [Johnny Cash] songs to listen to because I wanted him to be inspired. I told him, “Probably I will never use this as music for the film”, but I wanted him to feel that death is coming closer, to hear that voice, that man in Cash’s last two records whose life has been rich and full of love and emotion. And there is a trembling, as if the moment is coming.

For further study I rewatched Claire Denis’s episode of Ten Minutes Older in which L’Intrus author Jean-Luc Nancy talks endlessly in a train car about French homogeneity and foreigners as intruders, but didn’t find it any more interesting than last time.

I like to go into movies not knowing anything about them, but my only prior Claire Denis movies were the dreamily sexy Friday Night and the violent vampire flick Trouble Every Day. So there’s a scene early on in 35 Shots of Rum where a young guy (Grégoire Colin of Beau travail, Sex Is Comedy, Sandrine’s brother in Secret Defense) stops in an apartment building, overhearing the sounds from a room down the hall, and I thought “oh shit, he’s going to murder the people in that room,” then, “or maybe he’s in love with them!” With no frame of reference, it threw me for a few minutes. Turns out the latter was closer to the truth… it’s a (mostly) nonviolent love poem of a film.

Later I read some descriptions of the movie and found them misleading. IMDB: “The relationship between a father and daughter is complicated by the arrival of a handsome young man” – I got the impression that he’d been their neighbor for years, so what arrival? Landmark: “father and daughter realize they must confront a painful aspect of their past in order to embrace what lies ahead” – implies suspense where there is none. Presumably it refers to them visiting her mother’s grave towards the end of the film, but no dark secrets are painfully revealed there. The same description calls the film “gloriously delicate and sublime,” which is right on. It feels like that spectacular final scene of Summer Hours playing on repeat.

Lionel (Alex Descas, scientist in Trouble Every Day and airport rendezvous in Limits of Control) and daughter Josephine (Mati Diop, Djibril Diop Mambéty’s niece) live together, take care of each other, and hang out with neighbor Gabrielle (who likes Lionel) and Noe (who likes Josephine). They each attend to their own careers of train operator, student, cab driver and [something involving lots of travel to Africa], respectively. Third-world debt and Frantz Fanon are mentioned, the anthropology students at Josephine’s school go on strike, and a boy in her class likes her, but the main struggles are Lionel’s former coworker, unable to adjust to retirement, who eventually kills himself, and Noe threatening to move away. Correct me if I’m wrong – I’m not too good with story points told entirely through costume design – but Josephine and Noe decide to get married at the end, after father and daughter confront a painful aspect of their past.

I’ll join everyone else in mentioning the soft, lovely cinematography of Agnès Godard and the perfectly suited music of Tindersticks.

D. Kasman

Let us get the Ozu out of the way: 35 Rhums starts with Late Spring’s playbook, where a widowed father (Alex Descas) is living with deep affection with his marriageable daughter (Mati Diop) at a point in both their lives where each should move on. And there are many trains, and a great deal of rice. … If Denis’ push towards minimalism in her run of films from 1999 until 35 Rhums made anything stunningly obvious, it was just how expressive and perceptive films could be while paying nominal attention to explicit plotting and narrative clarity. 35 Rhums is a bit different, as its story holds on more than usual to traditional lines of character and action, but Denis’ sensibility transforms it from an obvious revision of the Late Spring paradigm to something else entirely.

J. Weissberg:

Claire Denis’s latest may appear whisper-thin on the surface, yet it’s marvelously profound, illuminating the love between a father and daughter but also highlighting the difficulty of relinquishing what most people spend a lifetime putting into place.

Denis:

I’ve been dreaming for many years of making an homage to Ozu, and this particular film was possible for me to use as an homage to Ozu, because actually it’s the story of my grandfather and my mother. She was raised by her father. And once I took her to see a retrospective of Ozu, and she really had a sort of shock to see that film [Late Spring]. That was like maybe ten, fifteen years ago, and I told her, “Maybe, once, I will try to make a film like that for you.”

Trivia from interviews… the “family” was supposed to be on their way to a Prince concert, and “Little Red Corvette” was to be playing in the cab, but this was deleted due to time and money constraints.