Monday, December 7, 2009
35 Shots of Rum ***
Director: Claire Denis
Cast: Alex Descas, Mati Diop, Nicole Dogue, Grégoire Colin
Like the tangle of railways featured in the opening scene, so are the relationships between the characters in Claire Denis' "35 Shots of Rhum".
We never know exactly where they're going or how they are connected, but the journey results strangely fascinating.
Denis concentrates on four characters: widower, train driver Lionel (Descas) who lives with his daughter Joséphine (Diop) and their neighbors, cab driver, Gabrielle (Dogue) and the mysterious Noé (Colin).
They live in a comfortable middle class apartment building, but it's clear they've created a world of their own within this space. We can see Gabrielle and Joséphine having conversations from window to window and Lionel entering Noé's apartment as if it was his own home.
The movie takes its time specifying the nature of the characters' relationships which makes for a strange experience (the relationship between Lionel and Joséphine even seems slightly incestuous sometimes) but it all has the greater purpose of making a point about transitions.
Soon it becomes clear that the movie is about two couples figuring out what they are about to become.
We learn that Gabrielle is Leonel's former lover and is having a hard time moving on and accepting that she's not his daughter's mother.
During one subtly painful scene we see her disappointment as she watches Lionel flirt with another woman.
Then there's Joséphine, who can't make up her mind about loving Noé or not. She behaves like a spoiled child and runs in fury when he tells her he's planning to move to another country.
Noé is a seductive mess; his apartment is the only thing he has left of his parents and his only "attachment" is a cat, whose awkward fate frees Noé to do as he wishes.
Denis plays with their relationships in strictly dialectic terms. We see how Jo is disappointed she will leave her saintly father for a chaos like Noé.
Gabrielle on the other side can't fathom how Lionel dares not to consider her family. It's also fit that both these characters work in transportation.
Lionel drives the train around the city and only seems to be alive when he gets a text message from his daughter yet he seems terrified of retirement. Gabrielle expresses how much she loves her job to anyone who cares to listen.
Their views on life are completely opposite and through details like these we can make out their complete histories in our minds.
We don't really need to know with exactitude to feel for them and enjoy their unselfconscious development.
"The less you know, the better I feel" says one character when confronted about their past. That might as well be the whole movie's motto.