Academic journal article CineAction

Six Films

Academic journal article CineAction

Six Films

Article excerpt

I am reviewing six films screened this year that I found engaging and appreciated seeing. There are several others, Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Three Monkeys, Jia Zhang-ke's 24 City, Rithy Panh's The Sea Wall (see Florence Jacobowitz's review), that I thought were impressive works. As for disappointments, there were Amos Gitai's awkward and unsatisfying One Day You'll Understand and Terrence Davies's self-indulgent Of Time and the City.

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35 Rhums (Claire Denis)

35 Rhums is a genteel and loving account of a group of working class blacks living in a French suburb. The film doesn't deal with racial tensions although one of the central black characters, a young woman named Jo, played by Mati Diop, is romantically involved with a white man played by Gregoire Colin. (Late in the film, it is revealed that her mother was white.) Instead, it's centred on the close daughter/father relationship between Jo and Lionel/Alex Descas. In the opening scenes, Jo is waiting for Lionel to come home to his dinner after a day's work (he is a subway driver), and, upon his arrival, it is difficult to tell whether or not they are meant to be taken as a married couple. It isn't until the conclusion of the sequence that their relationship is made clear. 35 Rhums isn't about a potentially incestuous relationship, in fact, unlike most other Denis films, there isn't anything of a controversial nature in it.

Claire Denis was present at the screening of 35 Rhums I attended and, when asked about her reasons for making the film, she said it was intended as homage to Yasujiro Ozu (the film is loosely based on Late Spring) and that Lionel was fashioned on her grandfather who reminded her of Chishu Ryu. In the context of Ozu tributes by contemporary filmmakers, 35 Rhums makes a fitting companion piece to Hou Hsiao-Hsien's Cafe Lumiere.

While 35 Rhums includes a subplot involving a recently retired male coworker of Lionel's who, when no longer having a job, discovers that his life has lost its purpose, the film concentrates on domestic life. Jo is forced into acknowledging the depth of her feelings for the Gregoire Colin character when he tells her that he is leaving to take a job abroad. In contrast to the seriousness of this relationship, Lionel shows no romantic and/or sexual interest in a mature attractive black woman, a taxi cab driver (perhaps a reference to Jim Jarmusch's Night on Earth, a film on which Denis worked), who clearly is in love with him. As these four characters live in the same apartment building, the film offers, through the depiction of their daily professional and personal lives, something of a communal existence that is, despite its positive energies, fragile and precarious.

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As in Late Spring, the dramatic weight of the narrative resides in the recognition by Jo and Lionel that her decision to make a permanent commitment to another relationship means the end of their life together as they know it. Denis's film isn't as poignant as Ozu's and its conclusion isn't as bleak but 35 Rhums does, nevertheless, make palatable the difficulty both characters have in letting go. The film shares with Late Spring sensitivity to the unspoken intimacy that a familial bond can produce and the fear of losing a loved one.

35 Rhums is consistently a graceful and elegant film. Denis, with seeming effortlessness, integrates image, music/sound so that, on numerous occasions in the film, an emotional moment is expressed through the miseen-scene and not by what is being said by the characters. And, once again, she is working with cinematographer Agnes Godard who provides a colour palette that services the emotional tenor of the film while working within the restrictions of a naturalistic portrait of a working class environment.

Denis's screenplay remains faithful to the sentiments of Ozu's film while taking in account the vast differences in the cultural and period settings of the two works. …

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