With the exception of an occasional viewing of Trouble Every Day (2001), it’s been four years since I last watched and thought about the cinema of French filmmaker Claire Denis. And then yesterday, I took in 35 Rhums (35 Shots of Rum, 200eight) at Midtown Art Cinema.
The film centers primarily on the day-to-day lives of father and daughter Lionel (Alex Descas), a subway driver, and Josephine (Mati Diop), a university student. Their neighbors Gabrielle (Nicole Dogue), a taxi driver, and Noe (Gregoire Colin) feature substantially in the pedestrian routines of the main characters as well.
As I re-read a LJ entry I had written about Claire Denis four years ago, my analyses of her other films could be applied to 35 Rhums nearly verbatim. Specifically, “sparse dialogue and questions of identity and belonging are present throughout Denis cinema.” Reminiscent of Taiwan’s Tsai Ming-Liang, Denis’s stories and camera dive into the way characters spend their time. Words are communication, not exposition. Whatever Denis wants the viewer to know, the camera will reveal.
There is no conflict in 35 Rhums; there are only a few verbal disputes and inconveniences the characters must endure, but nothing that would call for any gestalt resolution. Ironically, the beginning and ending are tied together visually and narratively through a rice cooker. But what of it, right? 35 Rhums demands a lot more concentration from the viewer compared to Denis’s other films. One must search out the significance of the characters’ relationships vis-a-vis the cinematography. The way in which the editing and camerawork create an atmosphere of “real time” (long takes, static camera, hand-held camera, and close-ups) and intimacy can be both inviting and alienating. The audience spends 100 minutes piecing together what Gabrielle is to Josephine and to Lionel, and what Noe is to Josephine, and even the signification of the film’s title without a strong sense of accomplishment, of appreciating what one just saw. It’s as if the film itself is reluctant to be laid bare.
Alex Descas looks on as Claire Denis checks the sound levels:
Click here for a trailer of 35 Rhums.