East Bay View (a blog about several things)

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The decade in Claire Denis

It's obligatory to mention that the career of Denis is difficult to extricate from that of Agnès Godard, her regular cinematographer for two decades (though Godard has worked with other directors); indeed, Beau travail might have the most incisive shots of male bodies ever, and there seems no point in dividing credit between the two of them. But too little attention has been paid to Denis's relationship with the other senses besides sight. Music is part of this – not so much the scores, which are middling, but the use of pop, most famously Corona's "Rhythm of the Night" and Denis Lavant's aberrant dance to it. But Friday Night seems to me to be a pretty straight-up-and-down movie about touch, and this is achieved through sounds – the matching of effects to actions. When we hear masking tape coming off the roll near the beginning we can feel it. Over-amplifying not the background buzz but the personal sounds your brain’s trained to block out – simply being able to hear the characters chew – gives a solidity that’s most notable for allowing the most physical sex I’ve seen on camera. Not sure which sound guy to credit, so I’ll take a stab: Jean-Louis Ughetto, I salute you.

The Intruder is certainly beautiful: most movies don't give us images as warm as Michel Subor drinking with a Pusan local or as vivid as a flashback to a boat's arrival at a French Polynesian island. But from Denis, that's not enough. Subor's character, Louis, is an intruder; various people are intruders in Louis's life (notably Béatrice Dalle); Louis even has an intruder inside his body - his transplanted heart. The heightening of Louis's condition, at first achieved through long looks at his huge chest scar, becomes absurdly literal when we see a bloody organ lying in the snow. All this is meant to make some vague point about rejection, and how communities and their outsiders relate to each other, but except in the Korean section and parts of the Tahitian one, Denis's use of photogenic isolated locations defeats her theme by not giving Louis enough human life to interact with.

35 Shots of Rum is Denis's variation on Ozu's Late Spring, except Ozu never had a chance to hear Lionel Richie. It's approximately as good as Hou Hsiao-Hsien's Ozuist Cafe Lumiere, which is pretty brilliant. Denis has complete confidence in Alex Descas (playing Chishu Ryu), and those of us who hadn't previously noticed he was among the most attentive actors around now wonder how we missed him.




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