Wednesday, September 2, 2009

35 Rhums

For a quiet film of little incident but deep emotion in familial bonds it comes as no surprise that 35 rhums was directly inspired by Ozu’s similarly restrained father-daughter flick Late Spring. Joséphine and her father Lionel live together in the Parisian apartment where she grew up, forming a family with neighbour Gabrielle, who carries a torch for Lionel, and with Noé, whose easy relationship with Jo seems to have been prevented from blossoming into partnership by the comfort of familiarity, stultifying his will to action.

Denis’ discrete camera observes the mundane details of domesticity and gently shows how they both comfort and suffocate. Slightly forced, it makes time also for Jo’s anthropology class, where another suitor is waiting, and more affectingly for Lionel’s train-driving colleague not yet ready for retirement. Lionel seems happy driving his train, as does Gabrielle in her taxi (their own respective little worlds), though for no apparent reason beyond her friendliness she seems to annoy everyone around her; this reaches a head when the “family”, stranded with a broke-down car, takes refuge in an after-hours restaurant and Lionel has eyes only for the foxy owner.

It’s a terrific scene of looks and sexual tensions as the various couples dance to the sweet soul music of the Commodores (always a highly emotional activity for Denis). Lionel’s look of concern as Jo and Noé dance together is no different, however, from that when he sees her precariously washing their outside windows the following morning; both occasions speak volumes about the strength of their bond. It’s testament to Denis regular Descas and first-timer Diop that this relationship seems so full in light of the overall understatement, so much so that a couple of moments in the script are actually overdone: we well know that they are happiest when riding together on his bike or sleeping beneath the stars without having to be told (a couple of other domestic moments – slippers, identification of a jacket we have seen moments before – are also oddly over-emphasised). For the most part, however, it's a classy piece of work, from the typically excellent cod-français score by the Tindersticks, to Godard's poetically discrete photography, all marshalled by the Denis' precise direction.

A not-entirely-unexpected incident of drama prompts a trip to the fairy spires of Lübeck and a cherishable cameo from Ingrid Caven as Jo’s grandmother and, finally, the eponymous ritual, performed as though in private reverie by Noé; its meaning is left obscure, but as such is a fitting title for the film, so low-key as to be rather underwhelming, but implying serious and deeply-felt emotions.

d Clair Denis p Bruno Pésary, Christoph Friedel, Claudia Steffen sc Clair Denis, Jean-Pol Fargeau ph Agnès Godard ed Guy Lecorne pd Arnaud de Moleron m Tindersticks cast Alex Descas, Mati Diop, Nicole Dogué, Grégoire Colin, Juliet Mars Toussaint, Jean-Christophe Folly, Djédjé Apali, Erik Ebanouey, Ingrid Caven, Adèle Ado
(2008, Fr, 100m)
posted by tom newth at

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