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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.
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35 Shots of Rum” (2009)
Working class tensions play out in silence; the scene set by the raindrops on the windowsill, the braying of the local train, the click-clack of glasses filled with merry drink. In this effort, Denis observes the curious, world-less formation of a family brought together partially by blood, partially by employment, but also with the love and generosity of those around you. “35 Shots Of Rum” details the transition, from the ones you love to the ones you will love, when you realize what exactly are the ties that bind. Love is not enough, argues the wonderfully humanist film, but there is beauty in finding a support system, and establishing your niche with hands held, hips swayed, and eyes locked. [A]

The Intruder” (2005) Perhaps her most elliptical and sparse, “L'intrus” is a masterwork of Claire Denis’ cryptic and haunted style. Centering on a 70-year-old man with heart problems who seeks a transplant, the clipped picture plays out like a feverish dream. The gorgeously shot and framed film (by frequent cinematographic collaborator Agnes Godard) eschews most narrative constraints to burrow inside the subconscious, blurring dream, memory, and waking-life into an utterly fascinating and breathtaking tactile experience. Enthralling as a largely wordless piece of cinema that radiates like the feeling of hot breath, the picture unfortunately loses its way in the third act, when the dying and inscrutable man (Michel Subor) -- intriguingly always dreaming of violence -- goes in search of a son sired years before in Tahiti. The sustained purity of breathless cinema, captured beautifully in the forest near the French-Swiss border where the man lives, evaporates and we’re lead into a strange last third that looks and feels nothing like this moody metaphysical exploration of questioning the notions of the heart, both literal and metaphorical. It’s a puzzling ending, but doesn’t entirely diminish ravishing opaqueness of what came before. [B+]

U.S. Go Home” (1994) [TV]
Claire Denis’ contribution to the 1994 French TV series “All the Boys and Girls of Their Generation”—which gathered together, as its title suggests, the most promising French filmmakers of the time—is to this writer’s mind very much of a piece with Olivier Assayas’ submission to the omnibus project, “Cold Water.” As the series requests, both films relate their directors’ adolescence to the music of their youth (the ‘60s), and both hit their stride in filming long, near-wordless party sequences set to American classic rock favorites and deep cuts. (There may even be some crossover in their set lists.) But where Assayas' looks primarily at a fissure between the younger and older generations (an overarching theme for the “Punk-rock Auteur's” career) Denis' is a kind of quasi-sequel to her debut, “Chocolat,” engaging with the more complicated social fissure she was confronted with in moving from Africa to the outskirts of Paris— the western influence of residual U.S. troops and the friction their occupancy causes among native Parisians. The American music echoes that friction, and the young French protagonists' struggle for individual freedoms through sexual expression becomes a dual theme with France's desire to be self-dependent. At barely an hour, "U.S. Go Home" also plays as a dry-run for Denis's 1997 film "Nenette and Boni," which features each of its three principals (Gregoire Colin, Alice Houri and Vincent Gallo) in very similar roles. [B]

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


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