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M. Leary

35 Shots of Rum

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As an avid Denis watcher, I had a really hard time with this one. It is a beautiful film about living and breathing Paris, every bit as steeped in topophilia as Vendredi soir. It also shares with Vendredi soir a steady attention to the way people emotionally and spatially relate, whether they are strangers or not. The lengthy train shots are a welcome addition to Denis' bag of tricks, as I enjoyed the colors and tones she found in those sequences. There is also a lot of attention to light and architectural detail. I really like it when Denis chooses urban contexts.

But alas, I couldn't connect to it. Vendredi soir, L'Intrus, etc... I get instantly lost in her other films, and am able to find a lot of territory to explore between them and the way she talks about her cinema. But I couldn't find as much in 35 Shots to latch on to. There are a lot of wonderful father/daughter moments that I have a better handle on now even after a just a few years of fatherhood. I also understood why and how she layered in a range of other thoughts about loss, absence, and the way life sometimes seems just to leave us behind. Fathers lose a lot as their kids grow and move on.

Is it because she is toying with adaptation or reference? I do enjoy Ozu, and find him every bit as enriching as I do Denis' films. But something got lost in the translation for me. What am I missing here?

Many of the emotions of the film seem to pool in that great late night cafe scene, but even it seemed a bit Denis-lite to me.

Edited by MLeary

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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It's strange to see Denis so interested in the psychology of her characters, right? It's tempting to compare 35 Shots to Friday Night because both are relatively "small," character-driven pieces, but Friday Night deliberately obscures Laure and Jean's motives. It's as much a formalist fantasy as Beau Travail. 35 Shots, on the other hands, is about its characters and their relationships, and what I find so . . . here's a word I don't use often . . . delightful about it is how attentive Denis, Godard, Fargeau, and the cast were to the details of their behavior.

I've used this example before, but one of my favorite moments in the film is the morning after the "Night Shift." Lionel is walking home after his one-night stand and sees Josephine cleaning the outside of their third-story window. The first time I saw 35 Shots I read it as a little ploy to create narrative tension: a father sees his daughter in potential danger, which harkens to his impending "loss" of her to another man. And, of course, the scene is that. But it's also something more. On a second viewing it becomes a long-rehearsed dynamic between the two. Josephine cleans when she's upset; Lionel knows this (he's seen it many, many times over the years); she knows he knows; she also knows it's now his job (because he's still her daddy) to act perturbed about her childishness and then to comfort her, which he does.

Denis has never shown much interest in this kind of psychology, but I think she and her team do it really, really well in 35 Shots. White Material, unfortunately, is another matter entirely.

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It's strange to see Denis so interested in the psychology of her characters, right? It's tempting to compare 35 Shots to Friday Night because both are relatively "small," character-driven pieces, but Friday Night deliberately obscures Laure and Jean's motives.

And this is what I like so much about Vendredi soir, in that everything gets increasingly exterior as the film goes on. This gives Denis so much space to frame everything as expressively as she does. But I was actually surprised by Lionel's one night stand, and I got a bit sidetracked in wondering if I hadn't picked up on some psychological crumbs dropped earlier, or if this was another bit of her wonderful slight of hand.

On a second viewing it becomes a long-rehearsed dynamic between the two. Josephine cleans when she's upset; Lionel knows this (he's seen it many, many times over the years); she knows he knows; she also knows it's now his job (because he's still her daddy) to act perturbed about her childishness and then to comfort her, which he does.

I guess I need to spend more time with it, even though my DVD transfer has issues. I haven't had the chance to see White Materials, but with 35 Shots there seemed to be two directorial aims going on at the same time. Her typically wonderful coverage, and then this less abstract psych driven narrative.


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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On the back of The Music Box newspapter, Michael Wilmington has called it Denis' best film to date, a "subtle and true family tale," which "makes us a gift of life."


In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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But alas, I couldn't connect to it.

I didn't connect with it on first watch, but I can't wait to see it again. I'm actually quite excited to rewatch this -- a film that I know I didn't initially connect with! We've said it before, I'll start the trend yet again: you need to see this more than once to fall in love with it.

What a beautiful film on family connectedness, the bonds we share and how they are forced to eventually break off.

I cannot wait to start talking about this. There's an article in Film Quarterly that is so well written, I read it right after I saw it, and what happens in 35 Rhums is totally unique in film watching. It blows my mind! I will quote from it here tomorrow -- I really, really need to get to bed.

But I'm excited to dig more.

Oh, and Darren -- did you do an interview with Denis a few years ago? Becuase your name is referenced in the article.

Edited by Persona

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Links to Chocolat (1988), Nénette et Boni (1996), Trouble Every Day (2001), Vendredi Soir, or Friday Night (2002), L'Intrus, or The Intruder (2004).

To 35 --

Yvette Bíró wrote the article for the Winter '09 edition of Film Quarterly. 35 Rhums is the cover story. There are actually two articles and then one more quickie on White Material.

Bíró's review "argues that Claire Denis's 35 Shots of Rum combines repitition and ellipsis to harmonious effect in telling a minimalist story about a Parisian father and daughter. Comparison is made with Beau travail and Nénette et Boni."

We talked a bit about the ellipsis in Lorna's Silence, although there we referred to it as a hard edit, or at least I did when I wrote about it. And it is hard there, because it's so sudden, so unexpected, so, "What happened? Oh no!"

These ellipses, or edits, are much more prevalent but certainly not as "hard" in 35 Rhums. We don't even notice them at first. But the more thinking I did after reading the article, which refers to a few of them, I think there are at least five or six, probably more. And what happens in this case is that we just get used to this elliptical experience and it throws the mind into a different mode of watching than we're used to. We're used to action/consequence in most of what we see, but here we're so busy piecing consequence together that we rarely even notice the missing action, like that hard edit that was jarring in Lorna's Silence.

The repitition is more self-evident, and as Bíró points out, it is usually used in opposition to ellipsis, but here they work in tandem. The repitition is the daily life of the inhabitants of the apartment, in particular the daily rituals of the father and daughter, the normality of everyday living: cooking, cleaning, and their work. This establishes a loving relationship of the father/daughter and the other two in the building with a "narrative economy," and sets the tone for what Bíró calls the "poetic sensuality."

Were the film only made of the repitition, I would have fallen asleep. Were it only made of ellipses, it would've been far too Lynchian for such a lovingly created family drama. Denis uses the two techniques together so that it surges the almost "non-narrative" forward. It keeps us thinking in all three possible directions, an intertwining past, present, future. Just stating it like this makes it sound like we do this when watching most film anyway, but we don't, not like this. It's not just a plot-wise approach, but it's evident in the emotional state of its characters as well. Which is why the acting here must be classified as superb. They relay an almost word-less emotional state, and as fragile and unspoken as it sometimes is, missing plotholes and all, they showcase just one more aspect of an incredible group achievement.

The scenes that best illustrate this are when the group's car breaks down on their way to a concert. Our four characters are forced to push the vehicle in pouring rain and take shelter in a shabby little restaurant, eating, drinking and dancing together. There are glimpses at what is to come in a kiss from one couple and a suggestive dance from another (the second couple unintended). And then the ellipsis: we cut to three of them on their way home on a train, instead of four. We think we may know where the fourth is but we've had nothing to show us exactly what happened. All three on the train are intensely silent. Relations at this point shift dramatically and it is all from something we never saw. The viewer is left to interpret the action from the consequence alone even as we are simultaneously tring to interpret the consequence. It feels like we're using that 90% of the latent portion of the brain, that place we don't often need when we usually see the action first, followed by the explained consequence.

All of this initially washed over me; I found myself somewhat lost, but not frustratingly so. I understood what Bíró has described, but couldn't quite put it to words. To have it explained in such a great way really makes me want to see it again. This is great film writing, convincing me that I actually loved what I saw even a tad out of the loop on first encounter.

I've only touched on the article here. It is well worth purchasing if you've seen the film, have the money and find yourself in a Borders. There's also another article called "Romancing The Father in 35 Shots of Rum," which I've read a bit here and there but not yet beginning to end, and a shorter article that compares Denis' as yet unreleased White Material to Todd Solondz's latest, Life During Wartime.

Beau travail and Nénette et Boni have made their way to the top of my queue.

Edited by Persona
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In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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I've used this example before, but one of my favorite moments in the film is the morning after the "Night Shift." Lionel is walking home after his one-night stand and sees Josephine cleaning the outside of their third-story window. The first time I saw 35 Shots I read it as a little ploy to create narrative tension: a father sees his daughter in potential danger, which harkens to his impending "loss" of her to another man. And, of course, the scene is that. But it's also something more. On a second viewing it becomes a long-rehearsed dynamic between the two. Josephine cleans when she's upset; Lionel knows this (he's seen it many, many times over the years); she knows he knows; she also knows it's now his job (because he's still her daddy) to act perturbed about her childishness and then to comfort her, which he does.

I loved it when she got so peed off that she is cleaning and just whipping boxes and slamming windows. It's exactly as you described, but here she doesn't get enough attention, so it's out with the family photos. This place is too crowded, we've got to throw these old things away. Clearly that last move got the attention she was looking for.

Edited by Persona

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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That scene's use of reaction shots is so wonderfully poignant and efficient.

stefbo, you need to close a tag, I think.


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I don't know what I did wrong but the Awesome Anna took care of it for me. Thanks, Anna!

That scene. Oh, I just love it. I've actually gone over it a few times in my head, and watched it earlier this afternoon. It really is a moment of handing and handling, even though all the players haven't yet figured out all its ramifications.


In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Finally saw this, and I think that I will write about it as a combined review with Lee Isaac Chung's Lucky Life, because I find so much that the films have in common. I wonder if Chung saw this before he made Lucky Life. I doubt it. But they are both so observant, so tender, so lovely to look at, and so similar in their unhurried storytelling. Such a deep sense of loss in both, and such an intensified appreciation of fleeting expressions, gestures, and silences as a result.

I'm not sure this is going to make any sense but I'll try it: There's a kind of glorious relaxation that comes when I've had a couple of drinks... enough to enhance my apprehension of my surroundings, but not so much as to disrupt it. I quiet down and sink into the couch and just enjoy watching light or listening to the murmur of overlapping conversations in a crowded room. That's how I felt watching this movie, which makes the title seem all the more appropriate. It's one of those rare films that is alive with the kinds of subtle exchanges that people share who know each other so well that they needn't speak.

I need to read a lot before I write about this, I suspect. I haven't seen any Denis since Beau Travail, so I won't be able to comment much on how it relates to her other work.

Let me say too that Gregoire Colin is becoming one of the most bizarrely fascinating faces in cinema. When he's onscreen, I can't stop watching him. It was a shock to see him again, after seeing him grow up from Before the Rain to The Dreamlife of Angels.

Edited by Overstreet

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Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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It's one of those rare films that is alive with the kinds of subtle exchanges that people who know each other so well that they needn't speak.

Yeah. And seeing this between Father and Daughter seems really rare in cinema. I am slowly coming around on this one.


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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Jeff, Isaac hadn't seen 35 Shots or any other Denis films before making Lucky Life. I know because I sent him a whole stack of DVD-Rs after I saw it and made the same comparison. He's since become a fan.

There's a kind of glorious relaxation that comes when I've had a couple of drinks... enough to enhance my apprehension of my surroundings, but not so much as to disrupt it. I quiet down and sink into the couch and just enjoy watching light or listening to the murmur of overlapping conversations in a crowded room. That's how I felt watching this movie, which makes the title seem all the more appropriate. It's one of those rare films that is alive with the kinds of subtle exchanges that people who know each other so well that they needn't speak.

That's really well put. She and Agnes Godard have an uncanny knack for turning every hand-held shot into a subjective, sensual experience. (I suspect the main source of my disappointment with White Material is Godard's absence.) The subtle exchanges in 35 Shots become even more interesting on a second and third viewing.

Last night after going to bed, instead of reading a magazine or book, I grabbed my iPad and watched the "Night Shift" scene for about the 30th time. It's perfect.

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Let it be known that I have repaired the sentence fragment in my previous post.

Jeff, Isaac hadn't seen 35 Shots or any other Denis films before making Lucky Life. I know because I sent him a whole stack of DVD-Rs after I saw it and made the same comparison. He's since become a fan.

...

That's really well put. She and Agnes Godard have an uncanny knack for turning every hand-held shot into a subjective, sensual experience. (I suspect the main source of my disappointment with White Material is Godard's absence.) The subtle exchanges in 35 Shots become even more interesting on a second and third viewing.

Last night after going to bed, instead of reading a magazine or book, I grabbed my iPad and watched the "Night Shift" scene for about the 30th time. It's perfect.

Interesting. I'm not surprised that Chung likes her now.

I had forgotten about the song "Night Shift." Hearing it in high school, I really liked it, but I hadn't had enough experience with popular music yet to recognize that it really is a good song. When it came on in this film, it was quite a pleasant surprise.

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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About the ending:

was the point of the second rice cooker that Jo was moving out and Lionel got another cooker so she could keep the red one when she leaves?


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White Material, unfortunately, is another matter entirely.

How so? Maybe seeing White Material on the big screen as Rum on the small screen had something to do with my reactions to each film -- as well as having had to split my Rum viewing into two parts across two days -- but I found White Material a more interesting film to watch.

Funny that I came to this thread wanting to discuss the "Night Shift" scene but worried that I'd look like the Ugly American, latching on to the one scene backed by an American pop song as the film's highlight. Guess I didn't need to worry about that.


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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as well as having had to split my Rum viewing into two parts across two days..

This is how I watched it the first time around, and it turned out to be very detrimental. Denis' edits work like transitions in discourse, and stopping one of her films only to take it up again later is like ending a really good, deep conversation and promising to take it up again tomorrow. We all know that never really works.

Later viewings were better, and I feel like I finally caught the momentum of the film. The subtext here is fragile, even for Denis, and the real tension in the film is the way she so carefully and patiently breathes all those sparks into life. And of course, having a daughter that is 4 going on 14 helps.


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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I found White Material a more interesting film to watch.

I can understand that. I suspect our different responses come down to taste and expectations. I've watched each of the Denis/Godard films so many times, I can recognize their style immediately. They're probably my favorite director/cinematographer team in all of cinema. So White Material was a disappointment to me because it feels broken.

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Thanks for the feedback, Mike and Darren.

The DVD is due back tomorrow, but there's a 75-minute conversation with the director included on the disk that I saw only a minute or two of before having to do some other things Saturday. For someone who's had limited exposure to Denis' work, would you recommend that I watch that? It's not an insignificant time commitment for me, but if it's insightful for a Denis novice, I'm sure it'd be worthwhile.

Have either of you seen that DVD supplement?


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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I haven't seen that supplement, but she is easily one of my favorite directors to see in a Q&A situation. She really has a lot of excellent things to say about life and cinema.


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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I haven't watched it either, but I should probably warn you about Denis's conversational style. She speaks very slowly and thoughtfully. When I interviewed her, she'd pause for a few seconds after I finished asking each question, and then she'd give a very precise and insightful answer. Several friends interviewed her that same week, and when we compared notes later, we discovered that we'd each gotten slightly different answers based on how we'd phrased the question. I would've happily spent three or four more hours talking to her, but I'd guess that a video interview with her won't make for riveting entertainment. The Friday Night DVD includes a running commentary that is a conversation between Denis and Kent Jones. It's brilliant stuff, but by typical commentary standards it includes a lot of dead air.

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In case anyone missed it, MLeary and I have begun a month-long conversation about Claire Denis over at tobecontd.com.

 

 

Which got a link today over at parallax-view.org.

Edited by John Drew

Formerly Baal_T'shuvah

"Everyone has the right to make an ass out of themselves. You just can't let the world judge you too much." - Maude 
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