A series of episodes of Juliette Binoche at various stages of breaking up and getting together with different men, trying to find something that works – mostly conversations shot in longish takes, with one musical exception in the middle. It feels strangely plotted for a conventional movie, and strangely conventional for a Claire Denis movie.

Juliette is breaking up with a banker who wants to continue having an affair and won’t leave his wife – the movie opens with a sex scene between them, and a few scenes later she’s kicking him out of her studio, telling him to never come back. Then there’s a false start with an actor (Denis film veteran Nicolas Duvauchelle), the relationship ending before it really kicked off. Her ex-husband comes over for afternoon sex, then later she tries (and fails) to get back his keys to her apartment (they have a daughter together whom we barely see).

Juliette and the banker:

I think we get an increase in the quality of men as the movie goes on. In the second half, mysterious stranger Sylvain appears at a party, they dance to “At Last” by Etta James and start dating. Juliette is an artist who works with art gallery people – she stands out from them at times, curses their snobbery when on a walk in the country, but they’re still her people and she listens to their bad advice. Terrible wavy-haired Fabrice says she needs to dump Sylvain and date “within her milieu,” she takes this to heart and the lovers argue. She finds out Alex Descas is interested in her (though we’ve seen him with Maxine from the art gallery), and finally there are too many guys with unclear statuses, so she visits a psychic for advice.

Juliette and Sylvain:

Alex and Maxine:

The psychic is Gérard Depardieu, shown in the previous scene breaking up with a girl in a car. Juliette shows him pictures, describes her current possibilities, asks Gérard with whom she can find happiness – and he hilariously adds himself into the mix, describing the kind of man she truly needs with all his own traits. In maybe the movie’s most unusual stylistic quirk, the entire closing credits roll over this scene, so it can cut to black and end after Juliette’s final smile.

Denis fills the supporting cast with fellow filmmakers. The banker from the opening scene is Xavier Beauvois (Of Gods and Men, and before this movie we saw a preview for his The Guardians). Maxine is Josiane Balasko, who has directed movies starring Isaach de Bankolé, Jean-Pierre Leaud, Isabelle Huppert, Michael Lonsdale, and so on. Bruno Podalydès is the guy who insists Binoche date within her milieu, has directed nine or ten movies including a remake of The Mystery of the Yellow Room. And Valeria Bruni Tedeschi (who got dumped by Gerard Depardieu) was in Cannes five years ago having written/directed/starred in A Castle in Italy.

This one has an odd structure, opening with a long scene of Mrs. Bouvier being given limited visitation rights to her son Mouton (“Sheep”) in a lawyer’s office, but she is never seen again.

The main section of the film follows Mouton’s work life as an assistant chef at a seaside restaurant. Long takes, long scenes of daily routine – it’s a Slow Cinema thing – then shorter scenes of the same old thing. Mouton starts dating coworker Audrey, but the movie isn’t giving anyone much of a personality or narrative, just spending time with Mouton and the others. Then after an hour, a narrator appears, and at a festival on the jetty some dude drunkenly attacks Mouton with a chainsaw, cutting his arm off.

Group shot: Mouton at far right

Mouton moves away but the movie stays in the same town (Courseulles, on the north coast just across the bay from Le Havre). His friend Louise works at a butcher, gets married to Mimi, has a kid. They live the rest of their lives, as a title card says. Nothing in the movie is especially interesting, but I do keep pondering its unusual structure.

Mimi and Louise:

They remember Sheep:

Jay Kuehner in Cinema Scope:

Each scene is invested with an interrogatory naturalism that seems to be imploring just what, exactly, one should be looking for, only to dissolve and leave in its absence the sense that in searching one may be missing the plenitude of the moment. Call it narrative fleecing.

“Life goes on, right?” implores Louise, now with child and no time to write to Mouton. It’s a familiarly wistful sentiment, particularly well suited to cinema’s temporal qualities, but rarely explored with such structural audacity and unsensational curiosity as in Mouton. A vague sense of indifference is immanent in our daily lives, however vigilantly we attempt to observe our departed. Mouton, for all its brute realism, is rather forgiving in this regard, locating pockets of grace in the seemingly forgettable gestures that constitute the hours of a day, and the texture of a life.

Better than Creepy, this is K.K. in arthouse French festival mode.

Stéphane (Olivier Gourmet of all the Dardenne movies) is an eccentric whose giant glass plate photographs are only still in demand by a few connoisseurs, so he spends most of his time in the basement photographing his daughter Marie (Constance Rousseau of Simon Killer) in uncomfortable poses for increasingly long exposures, trying to capture the ineffable. He hires Jean (Tahar Rahim, main dude in A Prophet) as a new assistant, which may have been a bad move – don’t hire someone who’s gonna covertly call an auction house to appraise all your belongings.

For the most part, the film follows Jean as he falls for Marie, who wants to move away from the lonely basement photo sessions and start her own life working at a botanical garden. Jean is a bit of a scam artist, and helps her out by scheming to coerce her dad into selling his estate, for which Jean will get a commission that they can live on together. But the schemes don’t totally make sense, and time goes by and things get weird. It’s not a tight Chabrolian thriller, but something more diffuse. Eventually Marie appears to have died in two separate incidents (a stairs tumble, a car crash), but she still appears real to Jean, and Stéphane’s long-dead wife reappears as a Pulse-referencing slow-motion spirit.

Originally titled Le secret de la chambre noire, I watched this right after Creepy. Since Before We Vanish, K.K. has already released its extended semi-remake Foreboding. The others I missed since Tokyo Sonata include Real (Inception-y romance), Seventh Code (an hourlong paranoid thriller), and Penance (a murder-guilt anthology miniseries).

Agnès Varda goes on one of her journeys around France, looking up old friends and making new ones, but this time she’s got JR, a photographer who likes to make gigantic portraits and paste them onto walls and other surfaces. This is pretty much the best thing in the world. Photographed: a mechanized farmer who enjoys his solitude, factory workers, dock workers’ wives, a shy waitress, the last remaining resident of row houses for miners, one of Agnès’s late friends, a whole town picnic. Agnès tries to introduce JR to his sunglasses style predecessor, some ex-filmmaker, but they get stood up. Besides that one hiccup, it’s a magical trip.

Optimally, this should be watched directly after The Rise of Louis XIV by Rossellini. I’m such an idiot about royalty and history that I’d forgotten it was the same king until I looked it up after watching this. I do hope Serra makes films about the deaths of every Louis, so we can keep them all straight.

The King has an infected leg, but everyone’s too deferential to insist he get help or to suggest anything drastic like amputation, so he just lays there and slowly dies. Serra has finally decided that if nothing’s going to happen in his movies, at least they could stand to look nice, which is a huge step forward for him after the last one, but I’m not sure why I keep watching them. It’s attractively underlit, thanks to new cinematographer Jonathan Ricquebourg (The Challenge). Long takes, with an intriguing performance by Jean-Pierre Leaud, who’s like an overdressed baby. And it’s probably worth watching the entire movie for the great final line, which was also the title of Cinema Scope’s Cannes roundup article.

I didn’t recognize Patrick d’Assumçao (the guy who isn’t naked in Stranger by the Lake) as lead doctor Fagon, and IMDB is unenlightening about the other two guys who are always in the room, Marechal and servant Blouin.

Opens with Etaix introducing the idea, explaining the sheer amount of film that was shot for this project, then being attacked by a giant flowing mass of unruly film stock. Unfortunately this turned out to be the best part.

The rest is an interview film, gauging the man on the street’s attitudes on sex and violence, entertainment and celebrity, TV and advertising, world events, personal relationships, and Pierre Etaix. Interviewees are French people on holiday, just after May ’68, which doesn’t really come up. He spends longer than necessary at some kind of open-mic festival. It’s all like the least interesting aspects of Chronicle of a Summer and À propos de Nice mixed together, with some fun/ironic editing, but not enough to make it worth sitting through all the amateur singing performances.

Ensemble drama about the actions and endless meetings of ACT UP in Paris, led by Adèle Haenel (Nocturama, The Unknown Girl) and Antoine Reinartz, which settles down in the second half to stick with one of the group’s most energetic members Sean (Nahuel Perez Biscayart of Could See a Puma) with his hunky boyfriend Nathan as Sean is dying of AIDS. It’s a bit long and talky, but moving.

Michael Sicinski on Letterboxd:

The relationship, and Sean’s death, may be “something we’ve seen before” in the movies. But I would argue that this relationship means something unique in context, coming as it does after the meticulous examination of the organization, function, and direct actions of ACT UP Paris. It is literally a love that has been won through struggle, something these men fought for to the very last.

or Gazing at Women in Cafes: The Movie

Our Hero, who looks like a shirt model, stares at girls in an outdoor cafe while accordion music plays.

In the middle third, he follows a woman through the city, past some conspicuous “Laure, je t’aime” graffiti, finally confronting her on a bus to ask if she’s Sylvie, who me met six years ago at the Aviators bar. But she’s not, and she’s less than thrilled that he’s been stalking her across the city.

An hour in, he goes to the Aviators and stares at more women while Heart of Glass plays.

He is Xavier Lafitte of the recent Saint Laurent movie which was not by Bonello, and she Pilar López de Ayala, Angélica herself. This played Venice in a packed year with Redacted, Mad Detective, The Assassination of Jesse James and I’m Not There.

Patrick Devitt in Letterboxd: “All of the imagery depicted has to do with memory in some shape or form.” Kenji Fujishima has a good writeup in Movie Mezzanine, calling it “alternately enchanting and disturbing.”


Some Photos in the City of Sylvia (2007, José Luis Guerín)

Shot in summer and winter 2004, this is the documentary(?) version of the previous film, in which our unseen photographer revisits the city (Strasbourg, France) where he met Sylvie 22 years before, distracting himself along the way with other women and wall graffiti.

He visits hospitals since his Sylvie was a nurse. No luck.

Besides his faded memory of this woman, he also follows the paths of Dante and Goethe and Petrarque, who all spent time in the city.

Silent and composed entirely of still photographs, cut and cross-faded. This was released a few months before the other, and maybe it would’ve made more sense to watch this first.

I listened to The Mysteries by John Zorn, which I believe was the Director’s True Intent – I called him and asked if Some Photos is supposed to be silent, and he said he’d rather it was scored by John Zorn’s The Mysteries, so there you have it. He didn’t say what to do when the album ended, so I put on some Boards of Canada.

“Let’s quit everything”

Made around the time of Tout va Bien and We Maintain It Is Possible, a few years after La Chinoise, which also takes anti-capitalism to bizarre, somewhat comic extremes. This imagines the “Year 01” in which everyone decides to quit their corporate jobs and disband capitalist society and live as people did before machines, growing crops with their bare hands, which doesn’t sound like fun to me, but I’ve been corrupted by capitalist propaganda I suppose.

“Now I take care of the cows. Milking isn’t much nicer than typing, but it’s direct work … if I want to eat, I have to do it.”

“98% vote to abolish property” – it’s convenient for the plot that everyone living in France is a good-natured, 28-year-old communist. They rebuild society in a pointedly uneducated way, going on instict and vague desire, which sounds like how the U.S. government is operating today. Neighbors and strangers open up to each other, jewel thievery becomes a respectable hobby, and everyone acts like they’re going on a huge vacation.

Mouseover to see this hippie get an idea:
image

Another great idea:

Watched this as part of my quest to see everything Alain Resnais made – he did a few-minute episode set in New York, where bankers leap from Wall Street buildings en masse as the people on the streets excitedly read the Euro news in the papers. The dialogue acting here isn’t great, but it opens with a cool series of quick zoom-outs on imposing buildings. Jean Rouch also contributes a Niger scene, which was short and forgettable but featured a reference to “Petit à petit, Inc.”

New York:

Closes with the title “Fin du premier film de reportage sur L’AN 01,” but after 85 long minutes, there was no more to say. I don’t know much about Doillon, but this came near the start of a long, still-ongoing career. Writer Gébé was editing a satirical magazine at the time, which would later transform into Charlie Hebdo.