Sunday, December 27, 2009

DVD Views: 35 Shots of Rum

35 Shots of Rum *** ½
Directed By:
Claire Denis.
Written By: Claire Denis & Jean-Pol Fargeau.
Starring: Alex Descas (Lionel), Mati Diop (Joséphine), Nicole Dogue (Gabrielle), Grégoire Colin (Noé), Jean-Christophe Folly (Ruben).

Claire Denis is one of those foreign filmmakers who is admired by critics and cinephiles, but has never really broken through with general audiences. Whereas a filmmaker like Pedro Almodovar has a large following in North America, Denis has never really had a big audience hit, and is virtually ignored come Oscar time. That she is one of the best filmmakers in the world is undeniable, but I also understand why her films have never really broken through. They are quiet and introspective more than anything else. It takes a long time for the film to reveal what it is really after.

Lionel (Alex Descas) works as a driver on the Paris subways. He lives in a working class neighborhood with his daughter Josephine (Mati Diop) who is in university, and one the verge of moving on with her own life, independent of him. This scares Lionel, whose wife died years ago, but also scares Josephine. Although she wants free of the neighborhood and of her responsibilities - she has essentially become more of a wife surrogate for Lionel - but cannot let go.,

There are other characters who circle around these two. Gabrielle (Nicole Dogue) has been in love with Lionel for years, and cannot seem to let go of him even though it is clear that they will never be together. She is a cab driver who lives in the same building as Lionel and Josephine, and continually tries to insert herself into Lionel’s life. Lionel provides just enough tenderness to her to string her along. Then there is Noe (Gregoire Colin), a young man who makes enough money to live somewhere else, but cannot quite seem to let go of the apartment that his parents lived in for years. These characters are, in there own messed up way, a family. They certainly more like a family than a group of friends, as they cannot seem to let each other go. They are stuck with each other, for better or worse.

35 Shots of Rum is a methodically paced movie. It only gradually reveals its secrets, and then simply sits back and allows the characters to behave like really people, instead of just pawns in a game played by the filmmakers. There are many great filmmaking moments in the film. Denis is one of the most gifted visual filmmakers out there right now, and 35 Shots of Rum continues this tradition. There are haunting images throughout the film, and her sound design is also excellent. A truly interesting technical film.

Denis’ films have as much in common with music then it does with movies themselves. They move along with the effortless grace of a jazz piece, where nothing is ever spelled out but everything is clear. The films best sequences takes place in a café, where the four main characters take refuge from a rainstorm. There is hardly any dialogue in this sequence, and yet it is the scene where all the relationships in the film are most sharply defined. The way the characters move toward, or away, from each other, tells us more than dialogue ever would. This is fine, because the story itself is the same type of thing that we have seen before - it was a favorite theme of Ozu for example - so Denis does not feel the need to hit ever plot point over the head. She simply allows the characters to move with each other. It is quietly beautiful in its own way.

I’m sure that much like Denis’ other recent films - including Beau Travail, Friday Night and The Intruder, that the critics are going to be the only ones who go nuts for the film. The film has not made a lot of money at the theaters, and I wonder if many more people are going to discover the film on DVD, like I did. That’s a shame, but at least I understand it. In a world where the movies seem to have to move quicker and faster than ever before, films like 35 Shots of Rum seem almost alien. To those adventuresome filmgoers, 35 Shots of Rum is a must see. I’m sure you know who you are.

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