Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
What Was I Watching Before? Bryan Singer Says 'X-Men: Apocalypse' Is "The True Birth Of The X-Men" What Was I Watching Before? Bryan Singer Says 'X-Men: Apocalypse' Is "The True Birth Of The X-Men" Review & Recap: 'True Detective' Season 2, Episode 3 'Maybe Tomorrow' Review & Recap: 'True Detective' Season 2, Episode 3 'Maybe Tomorrow' Zack Snyder Defends 'Man Of Steel' Finale, Ben Affleck Reveals Bruce Wayne Knew People Who Died In That Battle Zack Snyder Defends 'Man Of Steel' Finale, Ben Affleck Reveals Bruce Wayne Knew People Who Died In That Battle New Book Contends Eric Stoltz Was “Difficult” & The Cast Wasn’t Shocked He Was Replaced On ‘Back To The Future’ New Book Contends Eric Stoltz Was “Difficult” & The Cast Wasn’t Shocked He Was Replaced On ‘Back To The Future’ Watch: Scott Lang Wants To Call The Avengers In New International 'Ant-Man' Trailer Watch: Scott Lang Wants To Call The Avengers In New International 'Ant-Man' Trailer Watch: Epic New Trailer For Werner Herzog's 'Queen Of The Desert' With Nicole Kidman, Robert Pattinson, & More Watch: Epic New Trailer For Werner Herzog's 'Queen Of The Desert' With Nicole Kidman, Robert Pattinson, & More The 20 Worst Films Of 2015 So Far The 20 Worst Films Of 2015 So Far Zack Snyder Reveals The Easter Egg Idea He Pitched Christopher Nolan And David Goyer For 'Man Of Steel' Zack Snyder Reveals The Easter Egg Idea He Pitched Christopher Nolan And David Goyer For 'Man Of Steel' New Images Of Bruce Wayne, Lex Luthor, More In 'Batman v. Superman,' Ben Affleck Compares Batman To Hamlet New Images Of Bruce Wayne, Lex Luthor, More In 'Batman v. Superman,' Ben Affleck Compares Batman To Hamlet Mads Mikkelsen And Hugh Dancy Released From Their 'Hannibal' Contracts Mads Mikkelsen And Hugh Dancy Released From Their 'Hannibal' Contracts Paul Thomas Anderson To Write And Possibly Direct Warner Bros' ‘Pinocchio’ For Robert Downey Jr. Paul Thomas Anderson To Write And Possibly Direct Warner Bros' ‘Pinocchio’ For Robert Downey Jr. Watch: Michael Fassbender Plays ‘Steve Jobs’ In New Trailer For Oscar-Contender Co-Starring Kate Winslet & Seth Rogen Watch: Michael Fassbender Plays ‘Steve Jobs’ In New Trailer For Oscar-Contender Co-Starring Kate Winslet & Seth Rogen Tom Cruise Still Gearing Up For 'Top Gun 2,' Story Will Involve Drone Warfare Tom Cruise Still Gearing Up For 'Top Gun 2,' Story Will Involve Drone Warfare Watch: First Trailer For Oliver Stone’s ‘Snowden’ Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley & Nicolas Cage Watch: First Trailer For Oliver Stone’s ‘Snowden’ Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley & Nicolas Cage Review: ‘Terminator: Genisys’ Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney & Jason Clarke Review: ‘Terminator: Genisys’ Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney & Jason Clarke 'Thor: The Dark World' Director Alan Taylor Says His Marvel Experience Was "Particularly Wrenching" 'Thor: The Dark World' Director Alan Taylor Says His Marvel Experience Was "Particularly Wrenching" The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season

Post-Punk Auteur: The Films Of Olivier Assayas

The Playlist By The Playlist | The Playlist October 18, 2010 at 8:40AM

The Brooklyn Academy of Music (or BAM, if you prefer its punchier moniker) have titled their Olivier Assayas retrospective "Post-Punk Auteur." The musical connotations of that label slightly undersell the filmmaker's eclecticism—he digs up scores of post-punk tracks, sure, but he also borrows from Malian musicians like Ali Farka Touré, ambient pioneer Brian Eno, and the Incredible String Band, to name just a few. Still, at least give BAM credit for nailing another aspect of Assayas's cinema.
0


"Cold Water" (1994)
Assayas does a lot of things right in "Cold Water," his best film to date. But most cite first and foremost the filmmaker's flawless execution of this picture's extraordinary 20-plus minute centerpiece, a rave held by a group of teens deep in the woods, echoes of which can be seen throughout Assayas's work (most notably the house party in "Summer Hours"). As bodies dance in the dim light of a dilapidated farmhouse, Janis Joplin, Alice Cooper, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and others set the mood. In the midst of it all are disaffected youths Christine (Virginie Ledoyen) and Gilles (Cyprien Fouquet), lovers brought together through a shared feeling of displacement (neither’s parents want them around, and try to ship them off to a mental institution and boarding school, respectively). What makes this particular portrait of Youth in Revolt so special is that it never vilifies the adult characters. As Reverse Shot's Michael Koresky eloquently put it, "Cold Water" is a reflection of "true emerging awareness at this time of social distress." Assayas recognizes that the aimlessness of youth culture should not be blamed on the parents or their misbehaving children, but is the byproduct of a social crisis that forces the two from each other. When Gilles father announces he's sending his son to boarding school, he adds, "I'm never home, I can't watch you all the time." In this way, "Cold Water" signals a new-found maturity in Assayas's work, as his protagonists grow older and his characterizations sharper in the coming years. [A-]

"Irma Vep" (1997)
Greater writers have tried (and failed) to capture this film’s indescribable magnetism. It's ostensibly about the ‘disorder’ of today’s French arthouse, conducted like a Robert Altman mosaic, with characters flitting between rooms and the camera nimbly tracking them. It's also a movie that considers the value of an art cinema rejected by general audiences (linking it to Assayas's next film, "Late August, Early September") in sometimes didactic ways. It's both intensely cerebral (lots of self-conscious, rambling dialogues, which may be the point), and totally improvisational, as evidenced in its out-of-leftfield finale. "Irma Vep" is a lot of other things, too, including a film-within-a-film, following a petulant auteur (Jean-Pierre Léaud, filling the role of a fictitious Nouvelle Vague stalwart) determined to capture the "quietude" of Louis Feuillade's silent serial "Les vampires." The director (in the film) casts Hong Kong star Maggie Cheung (who plays herself), admiring the "grace" she displays in martial arts movies. Cheung arrives to find a frantic crew, few of whom speak English, and is promptly whisked to a sex shop and fitted for the black latex suit she'll be wearing as the title character (an anagram for "vampire," by the way). This movie is unpredictable—there's at least one scene that we're pretty sure is a dream sequence, involving an almost Lynchian naked cameo from Arsinée Khanjian (who greatly resembles Isabella Rossellini)—but the randomness is thrilling, the substance is the style, and the meaning… well, that's in there too, somewhere. [B+]

"Late August, Early September" (1998)
This film and Assayas's later "Summer Hours" go together like two shoes. In the latter, the passing of a family matriarch forces her children to appraise the estate she leaves behind. Here, the passing of an idiosyncratic author causes his friends to contemplate their lives and their complicated relationships. Both double as meditations on the value of art; in the later film, it is painting and sculpture that is assessed, monetary value weighed against sentimental, while here it's the worth of great literature that can't connect with an audience. Give Assayas credit for being open about not having the answers: a conversation central to the film finds author Adrien (François Cluzet), reacting to his fledgling health, discussing candidly his failure to make sustainable income from publishing his books, while best friend Gabriel (Mathieu Amalric), argues that it's his legacy as a great writer that should be more important. Assayas takes neither side, and a later scene — during which young interns sing the praises of Adrien's posthumous novel, admitting they haven't read his other work — only frustrates Gabriel, who insists, "His best books were ahead of him." If 'Late August' doesn't pack the emotional wallop of "Summer Hours" (nor Arnaud Desplechin's relationship drama "My Sex Life…," also featuring Amalric), it's elevated by a stellar cast of French thespians (in addition to Amalric and Cluzet, Jeanne Balibar, Alex Descas, Mia Hansen-Løve, and "Cold Water’s" Virginie Ledoyen), and by an acute understanding of the way we interact as lovers and as friends. [B+]

"Clean" (2006)
Superficially, “Clean” is a movie we’ve seen before, the struggles of a rock star junkie and her desire to stay clean and provide for her son. But of course that would be neglecting the challenges Assayas responded to, showcasing a story with a touching focus on humanity, a meditation on forgiveness that is never neat and tidy, but instead filled with disruptions and tragedy. Maggie Cheung, a former Assayas paramour, delivers a performance of noted difficulty, attempting to find the strength from within and learning to trust herself when the world has given up (she won Cannes' Best Actress prize in 2004). But a growly, unkempt Nick Nolte is a highlight as the compassionate father-in-law determined to help this fractured, unhappy woman find strength. Deceptively straight-forward, “Clean” is a movie about complex emotions and acute heartbreak that feels real every single minute. [A]

This article is related to: Carlos, Olivier Assayas, Retrospective, Features, Feature


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates