Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Review: ‘Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation’ Starring Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Jeremy Renner & More Review: ‘Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation’ Starring Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Jeremy Renner & More Relativity Puts 'Jane Got A Gun' And More Up For Sale As They Fight Off Bankruptcy Relativity Puts 'Jane Got A Gun' And More Up For Sale As They Fight Off Bankruptcy Zack Snyder Says Batman Has A "Crisis Of Conscience" In 'Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice' Plus New Pics Zack Snyder Says Batman Has A "Crisis Of Conscience" In 'Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice' Plus New Pics Venice 2015 Line-Up: 'Equals' With Kristen Stewart, 'Beasts Of No Nation,' 'The Danish Girl,' More Venice 2015 Line-Up: 'Equals' With Kristen Stewart, 'Beasts Of No Nation,' 'The Danish Girl,' More Watch: 4-Minute Tribute To Lars von Trier's Masterful Film Work Watch: 4-Minute Tribute To Lars von Trier's Masterful Film Work New 'Deadpool' Images, Ryan Reynolds Distances Himself From 'X-Men: Origins' New 'Deadpool' Images, Ryan Reynolds Distances Himself From 'X-Men: Origins' TIFF Images: Emma Watson In 'Colonia,' Brie Larson In 'Room,' Charlie Kaufman's 'Anomalisa' And More TIFF Images: Emma Watson In 'Colonia,' Brie Larson In 'Room,' Charlie Kaufman's 'Anomalisa' And More Richard Linklater Frontrunner To Direct 'The Rosie Project' Starring Jennifer Lawrence Richard Linklater Frontrunner To Direct 'The Rosie Project' Starring Jennifer Lawrence Watch: Blu-Ray Trailer For 'Avengers: Age Of Ultron' Plus 11 New Clips From The Film Watch: Blu-Ray Trailer For 'Avengers: Age Of Ultron' Plus 11 New Clips From The Film The 10 Best And 5 Worst Tom Cruise Performances The 10 Best And 5 Worst Tom Cruise Performances Watch: New Trailer For 'Mad Max: Fury Road' Blu-ray Release Explores Who Killed The World Watch: New Trailer For 'Mad Max: Fury Road' Blu-ray Release Explores Who Killed The World Just For Laughs: 'The Big Lebowski' Live Read With Michael Fassbender & Jennifer Lawrence Just For Laughs: 'The Big Lebowski' Live Read With Michael Fassbender & Jennifer Lawrence Union Rep Says Safety Was A Concern On 'The Revenant' Shoot Union Rep Says Safety Was A Concern On 'The Revenant' Shoot All The Songs In 'Paper Towns' Including Bon Iver, Wilco, Vampire Weekend, Bob Dylan, And More All The Songs In 'Paper Towns' Including Bon Iver, Wilco, Vampire Weekend, Bob Dylan, And More "A Living Hell": 'The Revenant' Is Reportedly $35 Million Over Budget, A Producer Exited The Movie, And More "A Living Hell": 'The Revenant' Is Reportedly $35 Million Over Budget, A Producer Exited The Movie, And More The 20 Best Documentaries Of 2015 So Far The 20 Best Documentaries Of 2015 So Far 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 "It Was A Clusterfuck From Day One": 5 Things About Neill Blomkamp's Failed 'Halo' Movie "It Was A Clusterfuck From Day One": 5 Things About Neill Blomkamp's Failed 'Halo' Movie

The Films Of Claire Denis: A Retrospective

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist November 19, 2010 at 5:56AM

The IFC Center in New York City recently ran a retrospective of French director Claire Denis’s laudable films—the most expansive retrospective of her work that NYC has ever seen—to commemorate the theatrical release of “White Material” this Friday. On the occasion, we have also decided to look back at some of her most noteworthy features.
3
Claire Denis


The IFC Center in New York City recently ran a retrospective of French director Claire Denis’s laudable films—the most expansive retrospective of her work that NYC has ever seen—to commemorate the theatrical release of “White Material” this Friday. On the occasion, we have also decided to look back at some of her most noteworthy features.

In a Claire Denis film, skin is always a character. Whether it be the leathery, rugged skin of Michel Subor's aged body in "The Intruder," which Denis examines in leisurely takes, or the way that skin serves as a kind of titillation in the vampiric horror film "Trouble Every Day," the beauty found in a Denis frame is natural and imperfect, and skin becomes a medium to express this. It's the blemishes on Tricia Vessey's body in ‘Trouble,’ and the moles and warts on Subor's back, that give Denis' images texture. She would have no interest in the "clean and clear and under control" skin some advertisements promise.

But there's a greater reason why skin is so emphasized, and it has to do with race. As a French woman born in Paris but raised in colonial Africa, Denis is fascinated (and saddened) by the friction between whites and blacks, which she's considered throughout her career. You can track this theme from her autobiographical debut, 1988's "Chocolat" to 1994's "I Can't Sleep," a subdued procedural which examines the hardships of the immigrant experience in Paris, to 2000's "Beau Travail," a re-imagining of Melville's "Billy Budd," which maps out a battle of white egos against the harsh terrain of Djibouti, to this year's "White Material," something of a career summation and a return to Africa, though this time the location is unnamed.

"White Material" is Denis coming full circle, her more narrative-driven early work (especially "Chocolat," its closest cousin within her filmography) clashing with the abstract rhythms and impressionistic imagery of her more recent films, such as the inscrutable "Intruder." If 2009's "35 Shots of Rum," a moody, meditative family drama and contender for the best film of last year, found this great artist settling into her old age (she's now 62) and embracing her love of Yasujiro Ozu (it is, after all, something of a remake of Ozu's "Late Spring"), "White Material" shows she still has some fight left in her, enough to confound and enthrall in equal measure.

Chocolat” (1988)
Though born in France, Claire Denis spent much of her childhood in Africa; her father was stationed there as a French Official, and she's said in interviews that her family moved often so they could come to understand the "geography" of their region. Denis's debut, “Chocolat,” uses these experiences; it's the only film Denis herself considers autobiographical. It traces the early life of an adolescent girl, very significantly named France, whose upbringing bears similarity to Denis' own. A framing device sandwiches the film between two present-day sequences: a prologue and stellar epilogue involving France as an adult visiting Cameroon after years away. In between, we're thrust into Northern French Cameroon, where seven-year-old France lives with her parents and "houseboy" Protee (Isaach De Bankolé). Denis focuses on the relationship between Protee and France's mother (Giulia Boschi), as seen through the young girl's eyes—a relationship complicated by racial and class tensions. France herself observes, but not passively: she learns. Most significant is the knowledge her father imparts to her, describing the horizon as a line that is "there and not there" (a metaphor for the line which separates race and class). Many have praised Denis' latest, "White Material," but its shared themes are explored with a greater depth and clarity here. [B+]

This article is related to: Foreign Films, Feature, Foreign Directors, White Material, Claire Denis, Retrospective


The Playlist

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


E-Mail Updates