35 Shots of Rum (35 Rhums)
Alex Descas, Mati Diop, Grégoire Colin, Nicole Dogué, Julieth Mars, Ingrid Caven / Fiction / French
One of the greatest living French directors turns her jeweller’s eye to a tender father-daughter bond.
The family on film is customarily the site of uncertainty at best, conflict and pain at worst. Onscreen relationships between fathers and teenaged daughters get a particularly poor press, tending to comprise varying degrees of resentment, aggression and illicit lascviousness. What a joy, then, to see a pure bond of love celebrated as tenderly and insightfully as it is here, by one of the absolute masters of modern French cinema. Claire Denis’ frequent collaborator Alex Descas gives a contained but moving performance as widower and single father Lionel, who is loath to relinquish the intense bond he shares with his daughter Joséphine (Mati Diop), but beginning to accept the fact of her burgeoning independence. Joséphine, too, is conscious of the change, as neighbour Noé (Grégoire Colin) beckons her towards a relationship that would necessitate a decisive shift away from her dad. 35 Shots of Rum pivots on no monumental event or dramatic crisis: its plot developments are incremental, emotional, revealed in infinitely subtle degrees of atmospheric and behavioural change. Yet Denis’ film is by no means weighty or abstruse: her careful attention to the characters’ personalities and feelings ensures that it emits a radiant warmth and a winning humour, even when its subject matter dips into sadness (look out for what must be the most poignantly amusing cat demise in all cinema). This most ambitious and intellectually rigorous of directors has embraced many modes of expression in her work, from the fascinatingly offbeat poetry of Beau Travail (EIFF 1999), to the wild genre experiment Trouble Every Day (EIFF 2001) and the elegant but baffling dreamscape The Intruder (EIFF 2005). A certain stylistic continuity is ensured, however, by the always-ravishing cinematography of Agnes Godard, and the exquisite musical contribution of UK band Tindersticks. In its kindly optimism, 35 Shots of Rum most recalls Vendredi Soir (EIFF 2003), Denis’ delicate portrait of a one-night stand; this is the lighter and gentler side of her work, but by no means lacking in substance or craftsmanship. It is both pleasurable and profound: a study of intimacy, community and the close bonds left by shared loss that penetrates deep into its characters’ world.
#1/ Friday 26 June, 2009 / 11:32 GMTNot "breathtaking in its simplicity", I would argue excrutiatingly boring. Basically the film showed the minutiae of a regular guy's life (taking a shower, cooking rice, driving a train, repeat, repeat, day after day). Dull to live but beyond dull to watch. If there was a story, I seem to have missed it.
#2 / Saturday 27 June, 2009 / 11:42 GMTIf like me, you’re the kind of person who’s desk is always tidy with everything in the right place, who appreciates clarity and structure, and is in generally on the wrong-end of the societal norm of ‘just go with the flow’, then this film could prove to be quite a challenge.
The first few minutes encapsulate the movie in miniature. We spend the time zipping around a French metro system going nowhere in particular, via a camera attached to the front of various trains, as the timespan unfolds from daylight to darkness. This is intercut with shots of a good-looking chain-smoking bloke in his fifties, watching the subway trains from his motorbike by the side of the tracks. What is he waiting for? What does he look so worried about? Why does he eventually leave? For every answer meted out, another dozen questions take its’ place.
The plot, such as it is, concerns the changing relationship between a beautiful father/daughter combo (which, at times, seemed to me almost incestuous in tone), and their extended family of neighbours. Most ‘stuff’ is left unsaid for the viewer to guess at. Instead we are treated to languid, lingering shots of things like, er, doorways and skin. This is most definitely arthouse territory, with bits of French-ness thrown in.
I stayed for the Q&A after the EIFF premiere, in the hope that the director (Claire Denis) might shed some light on her work, and indeed she did – long, rambling answers that veered all over the place in an entirely inoffensive but generally incoherent way – just like her film really. Nice enough to look at, but not really my cup of thé au lait, even if there had been some in sulky Noe’s fridge. 4/10
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