Friday, 20 August 2010

One More Shot.

Claire Denis fest! Ok, not really, just two in a row. And to be honest, this one I watched ages ago. I can't even remember how long ago, but we're talking months. But I've got to try and document my impressions. So here we go.

35 Shots Of Rum (another great title) is a film about a father and daughter, very close, living together in France. Lionel (Alex Descas) is a widower, and has raised his daughter Joséphine (Mati Diop) for years, with the only occasional involvement of a neighbour Gabrielle (Nicole Dogue), who was once in a relationship with Lionel but is now left wanting for a return of the relationship and of maternal tendencies towards his daughter. It is quite apparent that Gabrielle wants to be a bigger part of the lives of this small family, but also quite apparent that neither Lionel or Joséphine have any desire to upset the delicate balance they enjoy.

Joséphine is growing up, shown by her strangely forming relationship with another neighbour Noé (Grégoire Colin), who is quite unhappy in his current life but unable to move on due to his feelings for Joséphine, which are feelings he is nonetheless somehow compelled not to act upon. As the film moves on, Joséphine and Noé grow closer together, forcing Gabrielle and especially Lionel to realise that she is growing up and that their special relationship will have to evolve and develop sooner rather than later. At the same time, with tragedies and retirements affecting Lionel's personal and professional life, he comes to the understanding that he is not getting younger, that the end may even be surprisingly near, and maybe it is time for that old tradition of 35 shots of rum.

I remember coming out of the film somewhere between nonplussed and mildly disappointed, but looking back from this vast distance I really, really want to go out, pick it up and watch it again. It may be a matter of distance making the heart grow fonder, but the time passed has made me really appreciate everything the film was saying. Unlike many films that I watch, almost every moment of this film has stuck with me. I can pretty much recreate the film in memory, and that's a fair feat since my memory is generally ratshit. 

The performances are very strong. Very underplayed, very controlled, and beautifully spoken. Not a word or a look is out of place, especially within the father-daughter relationship, giving the characters a familiarity that is almost disturbing in the intimacy it allows you from the very beginning. One shouldn't be allowed this deep into a family situation without having known the parties for years.

Stylistically the film is very simple. It's not quite documentary styled, but it's close. Naturalism, I guess, is the appropriate term, but that doesn't feel like it is quite doing the film justice either, for there are some moments that seem to scream, despite their simplicity. I can remember scenes in Noé's apartment in particular that popped like a highly stylised film from the fifties might have done, for instance, despite the fact that it just looked like any other home. Something to do with the mingling of the colours and the framing employed, one must imagine (remember, faulty memory at play here), but it still gave the film a little lift away from the visual drudgery apparent in some other naturalist films. Kept it that little bit more interesting.

Denis has made a splendid film that I can imagine would be quit divisive, especially for the general public. This isn't a big, action packed film. This is a little character piece where, for the most part, not a great deal happens. Well, not a great deal on the surface, at least. But underneath the mundanity of their lives, everything is happening. Life is happening, and it might not seem any more exciting than the life of you or I, but it is rarely shown with such respect to the meaningfulness of existence. 4.5 stars.

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