Magazine article Artforum International

Just a Gigolo; James Quandt on the Films of Jacques Nolot

Magazine article Artforum International

Just a Gigolo; James Quandt on the Films of Jacques Nolot

Article excerpt

IN THE FILMS OF JACQUES NOLOT, weakness of the flesh implies bodily decline as much as unbidden desire. Nolot's unflinching camera looks with equal asperity and tenderness on the corpse of an old woman with its hairless vagina, spreading breasts, and wizened skin; aging drag queens in erratic mascara and tortuously extruded bosoms prowling the periphery of a porn theater; and the filmmaker's own naked corpulence, its mottled sag blue-lit and afflicted in a nighttime kitchen. While Nolot's protagonists, acted by the handsome director as obvious versions of himself, gloat that "other people's troubles exhilarate me" or "I don't believe in happiness, especially other people's," his films never succumb to schadenfreude. Their vision of human triviality and carnal chagrin may depend on disgust or ridicule, but Nolot's directness and self-implicating witavert the baleful. Absently wiping ass lube into his hair during sex with a young hustler, or confiding to a traffic cop that he just shit himself, Nolot maintains his dignity by accepting that each new day brings fresh ruin and humiliation, but also the possibility of fugitive pleasure.

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In person that rare thing, the reticent libertine, Nolot allows no such discretion in his art. His autobiographical trilogy--L'Arriere Pays (Hinterland, 1998), La Chatte a deux tetes (Porn Theatre, 2002), and Avant que j' oublie (Before I Forget, 2007)--unabashedly chronicles Nolot's life over the past two decades, his body waning but his persona remaining essentially the same: tamped, watchful, mordantly amused at frailty when not exasperated by his own. (In a bildungs roman way, the story of his youth is backfilled in two earlier films written by Nolot and directed by Andre Techine--La Matiouette [1983] and J' embrasse pas [I Don't Kiss, 1991]--which encompass his flight from his rural birthplace, his arrival in Paris after living rough in the provinces, his life as a young gigolo whose clientele included Roland Barthes, and his first return home, hair tinted blond, at the age of twenty two, in a Mercedes convertible: "a malicious pleasure of provocation," according to Nolot.) Each of his three films laments the passing of a way of existence, memorializing, respectively, his mother, his adopted son who died of AIDS, his own failing life.

L'Arriere Pays, one of the most remarkable feature debuts of the past decade, was shot in Marciac, the village in southwestern France where Nolot was born. Encouraged by Agnes Godard, the cinematographer who has also worked miracles for Claire Denis, Nolot took great risks as a neophyte director, especially in using nonprofessionals for almost all the supporting roles. (He did the casting in a village cafe.) The locals' raw authenticity, what Nolot calls their "maladresse," or clumsiness, stands in contrast to his urbane, gay outsider, Jacques Pruez, a minor television celebrity who returns to his hometown from Paris to see his dying mother. Revealing its origins in a novel unfinished by Nolot, Pays consists of three chapters: Jacques's arrival, up to his mother's death (and the shocking sequence of the washing and dressing of her corpse, which culminates in a reverse pieta); the funeral and various encounters and confrontations with family and villagers, in which secrets are revealed that overturn Jacques's grasp of his past; and, finally, Jacques's delayed leavetaking, including the sudden interjection of a remembered adolescent fantasy involving rugby players and bullfighters, locked in homoerotic rites, their tight pants revealing what French alliteratively elides as la queue et les couilles, otherwise known as cock and balls. (Nolot once remarked that if Jacques Rivette could show Emmanuelle Beart naked for four hours in La Belle Noiseuse, he could indulge his own proclivities.)

The film's early sequences seem made under the sign of Bresson: no nondiegetic music; elliptical imparting of information; a materialist sound track and cutting style that places images side by side like objects; and Nolot's own stoppered walk, frugal and indrawn, like that of a Bresson "model. …

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