The first of five semi-autobiographical François Truffaut films – also his debut – that star Jean-Pierre Léaud as Antoine Doinel, a young Parisian boy whose journey from neglected, mis-treated youth to juvenile petty criminal is profoundly moving and wonderfully acted. The opening sequence sets 1950s Paris up as a kind of playground, and it remains as much for most of the rest of the film, with Henri Decaë’s camera wandering the streets in tandem with the latchkey lead. I first watched Les Quatre Cents Coups (sorry, I’ve always hated the badly-translated and comparatively clumsy English languate title) when I was a teenager, but I identify with and have way more sympathy for Antoine now than I did back then. It’s a film that’s ostensibly about a child, yes, but really Truffaut is holding up a mirror to adults, requesting them to think about their own actions and the society they have created. (*****)
[Note: this is the sixth film in my 2016 Blind Spot series. For a list of the other well-known or well-respected films I’ve already watched or I’m going to be watching for the first time this year, see this post.]
When Jean-Luc Godard decided to make his feature-length debut Breathless in 1960, he famously turned to two of his fellow Cahiers du Cinéma colleagues for help. François Truffaut had already made one successful film – The 400 Blows – a year earlier, and would write the outline of a story for Godard that was based on a real life murder: in November 1952 Michel Portail, a Parisian dating an American journalist named Beverly Lynette, stole a car so he could visit his sick mother in Le Havre and shot a motorcycle cop named Grimberg. Claude Chabrol – who had three films of his own under his belt by the end of 1959 – was brought on as an ‘artistic supervisor’. These were two men with their own clearly-defined ideas about cinema, and storytelling, but this film is unmistakably Godard’s, from the way that it embraces a hip, French take on American pulp imagery to the film’s most obvious structural quirks, including the large number of jump cuts that were made when trimming down a five hour rough-cut to the released version of 87 minutes (90 unrated). This skittish, stuttering style would go on to become something of a calling card for Godard in the 1960s, but it’s not only utilised as a means of reducing the running time. It gives a sense of busy, young lives in perpetual (caffeine- and nicotine-fuelled) motion, while it also serves to highlight – through the lack of an expected smoothness – the awkwardness (or indeed the fractious nature) of the relationship between Jean Seberg’s American in Paris Patricia and Jean-Paul Belmondo’s Michel, a man on the lam who seems to care more about adopting the mannerisms of Humphrey Bogart than he does about the net that’s closing in on him.
The chemistry between the two is, of course, key to the film’s success. Seberg’s fee accounted for a hefty portion of the film’s budget and she is as cool as they come, her style in this film – short, cropped hair, striped Breton top, skirt, overcoat – as influential today as it has ever been. Belmondo’s shady crook is a walking chimney, perennially lighting up cigarettes, stubbing them out, flicking matches away with no concern about potential fires and generally not giving much of a fuck about anything other than Bogey. He calls her a louse repeatedly during the film (or ‘a scumbag’, depending on the version you watch), and most famously of all he says it to her during the final scene, when all that smoking catches up with Michel and he finally runs out of breath. Does he mean it as an insult? Is it a playful in-joke that acknowledges that her French isn’t perfect? Or is it just a defence mechanism? I’m inclined to go with the latter suggestion; he really does love her but is afraid of rejection, and anyway…it simply isn’t cool to show commitment. How many times do you ever see Bogart do that, after all? As for Patricia…does she love him? Maybe. Was she really going to go to Italy with him? Maybe. Does she believe he would be a good father? Maybe…weirdly. Both actors deliver very enigmatic performances, and both characters are hard to figure out as a result, as playful and flirtatious with each other as they are distant. Seberg and Belmondo improvised a lot with dialogue that Godard often came up with on the day.
Godard’s adoption of the fledgling cinéma vérité style for Breathless helped to popularise it among cinephiles, despite it being a term more readily associated with documentary filmmaking. Raoul Coutard’s hand-held camera moves freely and loosely around the characters as we experience the minutae of their quotidien life, be it buying newspapers, selling newspapers, lounging around indoors talking about their bodies, eating in cafes and more. Coutard was the choice of producer Georges de Beauregard, and he would become an important collaborator with Godard during the rest of the decade, as well as being an important figure in the careers of Truffaut and others. You can’t underestimate his contribution to the mood of this film, or indeed that of pianist Martial Solal’s insistent jazz soundtrack, which lingers in the memory long after the film has finished. Their importance has often been stated, though one could argue that the two women Godard edited with, Cécile Decugis and Lila Herman, have been overlooked. Both will have been key contributors to the rhythm of Breathless, and that – along with the look and the feel of the film – is everything; by contrast the plot is really so slight as to be almost – almost! – irrelevant. It’s not a surprise that this jittery black-and-white portrait of Paris – and Godard’s infatuated take on the city’s young, chain-smoking inhabitants – caused such a stir in the early ’60s; the director flings the door open here to usher in the new decade. Breathless is an experimental, era-defining masterpiece and it hasn’t lost any of its hipness during the ensuing years.
Directed by: Jean-Luc Godard.
Written by: Jean-Luc Godard. Based on an initial treatment by François Truffaut and Claude Chabrol (uncredited).
Starring: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Seberg.
Cinematography: Raoul Coutard.
Editing: Cécile Decugis, Lila Herman.
Music: Martial Solal.
Running Time: 86 minutes.
[Note: The 1913/1914 Fantômas serial by Louis Feuillade is actually a collection of five films ranging from 60 to 90 minutes in length, but I’m just posting one review here. For the record the five films I watched were Fantômas I: À l’ombre de la guillotine (Fantômas: In the Shadow of the Guillotine) (1913); Fantômas II: Juve contre Fantômas (Juve vs. Fantômas) (1913); Fantômas III: Le Mort Qui Tue (The Murderous Corpse) (1913); Fantômas IV: Fantômas contre Fantômas (Fantômas vs. Fantômas) (1914); and Fantômas V: Le Faux Magistrat (The False Magistrate) (1914). These have recently been restored and re-packaged as a centenary edition by Gaumont. I watched with intertitle cards and other text in the original French, which I just about managed to translate and understand.]
Louis Feuillade’s silent crime film serial – based on a long-running French series of novels – was originally released during 1913 and 1914, and among other things the films offer interesting snapshots of the sets, camerawork, editing and techniques of actors that I presume were typical of the era (though even within this series you can see rapid development in terms of all of those elements, and a clear case of expanding ambition with regard to the filmmaker). The serial details the ongoing game of cat-and-mouse between a criminal mastermind named Fantômas (René Navarre) and the man trying to bring him to justice, Insprector Juve (Edmund Breon), who is often aided by his journalist friend Jérôme Fandor (Georges Melchior); there are a couple of other actors who appear as the same characters in different instalments, such as Renée Carl, who plays Lady Beltham, Fantômas’ mistress, but the core cast is small. The films use intertitles regularly, and they also incorporate an increasing number of letters and newspaper articles to develop and explain the various plots, though they have clearly been made with the understanding that audience members at the time were familiar with the stories from the books. The plots gradually become more complex as the series progresses, and characters adopt alter-egos or wear disguises regularly, so it’s actually quite difficult to follow on occasion (though I dare say watching with English intertitles and translations would have helped). Each film ends with a cliffhanger, much in the way that the other popular serials of the time did; more often than not this involves a character in peril or Fantômas evading the long arm of the law (which he does with comical ease).
Feuillade’s first film In The Shadows Of The Guillotine is much slower, more rudimentary and less expansive than the rest: few locations are used, there aren’t many actors or extras and the glimpses of Paris that one does see do not give an impression of a busy capital city at all. At one point the director films a hotel lift going past each different floor as it moves between the ground floor and the third; today we’re used to seeing a character getting in a lift and then a cut to them getting out, unless the camera stays with the character inside the lift for the duration for some reason. (As David Bordwell notes in his essay on the serial, Feuillade filmed the lift from different angles and simply changed a sign above it to indicate the different floors.) It’s noticable that by the time he made Juve vs Fantômas the director’s style had evolved, and in particular his editing injected a greater sense of urgency, which in turn made the stunts and the action much more exciting. There’s a sense of gleefulness about the choreographed action set pieces in the second film, and it’s notable for the inventive special effects that are used: a house explodes, a shoot-out takes place at a distillery while barrels of alcohol burn, and there’s a train crash (i.e. two model locomotives filmed smashing into each other after rounding a papier mâché mountain). The addition of tense and imaginatively-staged scenes like these are complemented by the inclusion of other thriller staples, such as sudden twists, while there’s also a greater sense of Paris as a living, breathing metropolis, with more actors, more extras and more real people included in the background. Even the casual observer can see a difference between the first and second film in terms of the size and depth of the sets, which are ornately decorated in Juve vs Fantômas and even more impressive as the series wears on, presumably as funding increased.
Feuillade switches his protagonists regularly, so there are some films in which Juve’s pursuit of Fantômas is to the fore and others in which Fandor takes the lead. The villain himself isn’t overused, either; even five films in there’s still a certain frisson felt when the dastardly one appears on screen, and a sense that anything can happen while he is present. This keeps the series fresh, although by the time I’d watched all 337 minutes over the course of three days I was ready for a break. My growing weariness was probably a result of the convoluted plots more than anything else. The Murderous Corpse, for example, involves a long set-up so that Fantômas can commit a crime using a glove that has been made from the skin of a dead man (who he framed for an earlier murder). Still, such outlandish plotting doesn’t cast too much of a shadow over this otherwise bright and entertaining serial, and I’ll reiterate the point that audiences at the time would have been familiar with the source material. The five Fantômas films are entertaining enough in their own right, but today there’s an obvious added historical value: it’s fascinating to see a director and his cast and crew develop so impressively and so rapidly; additionally, for those of us who don’t watch many silent films, it’s always a treat to immerse yourself in that quiet world and pay attention to what you can see, rather than what you can see and hear. Feuillade would go on to make the popular 10-part serial The Vampires a year later – which by all accounts is superior to his clutch of Fantômas features – and his successes helped to establish Gaumont as the second biggest film production company in France after Pathé. Navarre and Breon both worked regularly as actors until the late-1940s, the latter successfully making the transition into talkies before emigrating to the US and working with Howard Hawks. Creators Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre wrote more than 40 Fantômas books between them, while the character has appeared in French crime films and TV serials regularly over the years, including a 1960s trilogy in which Jean Marias played the master criminal and the journalist tailing him. An updated version directed by Christophe Gans is currently in development.
Directed by: Louis Feuillade.
Written by: Marcel Allain, Louis Feuillade, Pierre Souvestre.
Starring: René Navarre, Edmund Breon, Georges Melchior, Renée Carl.
Cinematography: Georges Guérin.
Running Time: 337 minutes.
Jacques Audiard’s latest caused a stir in 2015 when it won the Palme d’Or, with a number of critics suggesting the award should have gone to a more deserving film, Son Of Saul and The Assassin being the ones championed loudest. Dheepan‘s arrival on these shores has been met with general appreciation, though, even if many amateur and professional critics seem to have found the ending problematic. But that’s the ending, and I probably ought to begin at the beginning. This is Audiard’s eighth film as director, and the first since 2012’s Rust And Bone. It’s the story of a Sri Lankan Tamil Tiger (the Dheepan of the title, played by novelist Antonythasan Jesuthasan, a former child soldier himself) who must flee his country when he ends up on the losing side at the end of the Sri Lankan Civil War. The single Dheepan intends to move to France, but in order to seek political asylum he needs to have a family, so he is paired with a fake wife named Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan), who wants to live with her cousin in England, and a nine-year-old girl named Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby), who Yalini finds and coerces into making the journey to Europe. This is revealed during a brief prologue, largely set within a refugee camp; afterwards, once the director move the action to the suburbs of Paris, Sri Lanka and the characters’ memories of life there ripple through Audiard’s film. The main character has dreams that feature an elephant partially-covered by leaves and he – and others – involved in the war are clearly haunted by what they have seen.
Dheepan serves as an interesting study of the trials faced by migrant families when moving to a new country. Many French films of recent years have taken on the subject, such as Philippe Lioret’s Welcome and Aki Kaurismäki’s Le Havre, while two of Audiard’s recent works – the magnificent A Prophet and 2005’s The Beat That My Heart Skipped – have also concerned themselves with the experiences of ethnic minority characters within modern France. Both of those films are also about small scale criminal enterprises, so it’s no surprise when we discover that the tower block Dheepan and his new surrogate family move into is directly opposite and adjacent to blocks that are controlled by drug gangs. ‘They have gangs here, too?’ inquires Yalini, surprised. ‘Yes…but not as bad as ours’ is Dheepan’s reply. The dealers actually seem to co-exist with the wary, non-criminal residents amicably enough, even if their constant presence on rooftops and outside entrances is threatening and their nighttime noise is a nuisance, but eventually and inevitably violent incidents begin to break out. Initially Dheepan – who is employed as a caretaker for the blocks – manages to keep a safe distance; gradually, however, he seems drawn to the gang and the trouble that surrounds them like a moth to a flame (sitting nearby when there’s no need to, making idle chit chat with gang members, etc.). The link is furthered when Yalini takes a cooking and cleaning job, working for the uncle of an ex-con gang leader (Vincent Rottiers), who she slowly becomes fascinated by.
There’s actually a very pleasing balance here as Audiard weaves the plot thread about Dheepan, Yalini and the gang together with scenes that deal with the process of immigration and settling, as well as broader and briefer examinations of racism and cultural identity within a minority community (the residents of their estate are presumably first, second and third generation French Muslims for the most part, and there’s an amusing line here in which Dheepan innocently suggests that his new wife should wear a veil to fit in with French people around them, which she dismisses curtly). Some of Dheepan‘s most fascinating passages track the development of the three Sri Lankan characters as they come to terms with the new country and, at the same time, one another; they begin as strangers who barely speak a word of French between them but gradually Audiard presents them as a ‘normal’ family unit, who make acquainances within the local area and the wider Sri Lankan community. The film is at its best as a kitchen sink drama examinign the relationships within the family, and it’s during these scenes that we see the bond between Yalini and Dheepan grow, as well as the development of Dheepan’s paternal instincts. Illayaal’s experiences at school also feature prominently: as the new girl she struggles to make friends and is placed in a special learning class to get her language skills up to speed; yet despite everything she has been through she blossoms at school and later, when we see her doing homework in the lounge with her surrogate father, it looks as if the child is teaching the adult, rather than vice versa.
Then we hit that ending, which is Audiard’s vaguely hallucinatory, grim take on Death Wish, Harry Brown, Taxi Driver or countless genre films that depict brutal acts of vigilantism (I even thought that Dheepan‘s odd coda, set in a middle-class suburban England of bright sunshine and barbecue get-togethers, contains an implied and vaguely-comical nod to Scorsese’s celebrated mid-70s work). To his credit the director spends a while building up to the explosion of violence that takes place during the final act, presumably to try and avoid criticism of drastic tonal shifts, but even so the action that transpires feels extreme given everything that has gone before, though not completely out of character for those involved. (Perhaps it feels unharmonious simply because Dheepan succeeds so well as a drama that investigates the migrant experience.) There are attempts to foreshadow Dheepan’s actions during the final act, principally by suggesting that the PTSD-suffering former soldier shares characteristics with the elephant we occasionally glimpse: generally placid, but also extremely dangerous, and ready to charge. At different times we see Dheepan wearing the flourescent Disney-style mouse ears that he hawked around Montmartre when he first moved to Paris, which could be construed as a subtle visual link to the bigger animal, and it’s at least indicative of Dheepan’s state of mind when he enters France.
In all honesty the ending didn’t ruin the film for me, even though I initially felt it was a misjudgment as I left the cinema. For the most part this is an impressive piece of work, with fine performances from the three Sri Lankan cast members. Eponine Momenceau’s photography mixes wide shots of the banlieues with handheld cameras within its corridors, rooms and stairwells, while she has an impressive, deliberately rough-looking style of framing that I quite like, occasionally using foreground objects and walls to partly obscure the faces of the characters. Nicolas Jaar’s score, meanwhile, is atmospheric, and it changes to complement the shifts in Audiard’s material successfully. Pretty good, even if it doesn’t quite match the heights of the director’s best work.
Directed by: Jacques Audiard.
Written by: Jacques Audiard, Thomas Bidegain, Noé Debré.
Starring: Antonythasan Jesuthasan, Kalieaswari Srinivasan, Claudine Vinasithamby, Mark Zinga.
Cinematography: Eponine Momenceau.
Editing: Juliette Welfling.
Music: Nicolas Jaar.
Running Time: 112 minutes.
Often referred to as the finest heist movie ever made, Jules Dassin’s Rififi was developed while the American noir director was living in France, having found himself on the Hollywood blacklist a year or so earlier. Dassin came across Auguste Le Breton’s slang-filled crime novel of the same name, and though he was initially skeptical about turning it into a film, it seems as though a lack of viable alternative options forced the director’s hand. It turned out to be a good move: Dassin and René Wheeler wrote a very good screenplay, and Rififi is one of the finest French films blacks (as I believe they’re possibly known) and – yup – as good an example of the heist movie as you’ll see. (If you’re unwilling to take my word for it then perhaps you’ll accept that of François Truffaut, who wrote ‘From the worst crime novel I have ever read, Jules Dassin has made the best film noir I have ever seen’.) Its crowning centrepiece is the scene that depicts the tense robbery, an intricately-planned takedown of a jewellery store which famously unfolds in half an hour of silence. The four thieves (led by Jean Servais’ stern ex-con Tony ‘le Stéphanois’) do not speak because they are wary of tripping a sensitive alarm system, and the tension is increased somewhat by a long sequence just before the robbery in which the men plan the heist; the loud alarm bell sounds throughout as they experiment with ways to shut it off.
The four robbers are generally likeable – particularly family man Jo (Carl Möhner), who proposes the job in the first place – which makes the cold, vicious, plain-living Tony stand out from the pack. Servais is tight-lipped throughout, with Tony refusing to crack a smile or to join in when the others reveal future plans with their ill-gotten gains. It’s easy to get swept along while the other three dare to dream, and Dassin is quite forceful in making you root for the criminals as they set about nabbing a bag full of diamonds, but it remains impossible to completely get behind the main protagonist of the film. Servais – who worked with the director again on 1957’s He Who Must Die – is a key contributor to Rififi‘s nasty edge, and the more he’s on screen the more you sense that the story will end badly for Tony. He may buy toys for Jo’s son, but when we see him viciously beat former flame Mado (Marie Sabouret) for hooking up with gangster and nightclub owner Pierre Grutter (Marcel Lupovici) while he’s in prison, he’s effectively signing his own cinematic death warrant. (Though there’s a hint that this beating is a common sado-masochistic practice that the couple have participated in together beforehand, Servais looks like a cold, vicious bastard throughout the scene, as opposed to someone who’s getting any kind of sexual gratification from the lashes he inflicts). So, in that sense it’s no surprise when Tony dishes out the violence as a feud with Grutter and his junkie brother escalates, and few will be blindsided when the film completely ditches its caper-fuelled lightness in favour of tougher, hard-boiled fatalism. It’s a great film to watch for the impeccable blocking – at one point nudity is amusingly covered by actors moving into certain positions in front of the camera, while all four thieves are often in frame during the heist itself – and all the cool trappings of noir are present and correct: fedoras, hats, guns, raincoats, nightclub torch singers, cigarettes dangled at 45 degree angles, and so on. Dassin also stars, under the pseudonym ‘Perlo Vita’, as César, an Italian safecracker.
Directed by: Jules Dassin.
Written by: Jules Dassin, René Wheeler. Based on Rififi by Auguste Le Breton.
Starring: Jean Servais, Carl Möhner, Robert Manuel, Jules Dassin, Marcel Lupovici, Marie Sabouret, Magali Noel, Pierre Grasset, Janine Darcey, Dominique Maurin.
Cinematography: Philippe Agostini.
Editing: Roger Dwyre.
Music: Georges Auric.
Running Time: 113 minutes.
Alarm bells start to ring when one of the opening scenes in a modern crime film features a law enforcement agent receiving a dressing down from his superiors (because he’s reckless and insubordinate, of course, and his behaviour endangers the lives of others). Unfortunately this action thriller – directed by James Watkins (Eden Lake) and scripted by Andrew Baldwin – contains several other clichés that no filmmaker or writer should be going near in 2016, as well as corny twists that are delivered so lumpenly they unintentionally induce mirth. In fact – and I take no pleasure in saying this – there’s very little in Bastille Day that can honestly be described as original. Idris Elba is the Paris-based CIA agent whose methods are generally overlooked (he’s unconventional but he gets results, etc. etc.), while Richard Madden (hitherto best known for his role as Robb Stark in Game Of Thrones) plays an American pickpocket helping the CIA after he becomes embroiled in a bizarre criminal operation. Said plan, due to be executed on Bastille Day, involves an unnecessarily-complicated mish-mash of terrorists, bombs, a burgeoning Front Nationale-style right wing party, a bank robbery and a stitch-up of the city’s Muslim community, and it’s up to Elba and Madden’s characters to thwart it. As you can probably deduce the writer has tried very hard to inject currency into (or disguise) a basic, thin genre plot – the kind we’ve recently seen in this year’s Triple 9 – but it’s hard not to let out an exasperated sigh when a band of Anonymous-style activists are also thrown in to the mix. Bastille Day couldn’t be any more 2016 if it tried, though perhaps we should just be thankful that it doesn’t include a news report about a celebrity unexpectedly carking it.
The screenplay’s full of banal expository dialogue, tired exchanges and cardboard cutout bad guys, while the acting is patchy at best: Elba, Madden and Kelly Reilly – who plays a high-ranking CIA official – are all British actors in roles that require American accents, and all three fail to convince (a surprise in Elba’s case, given his earlier consistent performance in The Wire). The supporting actors are generally disappointing, too, with Anatol Yusef and Charlotte Le Bon delivering turns that aren’t quite up to scratch and which make you wonder whether their characters have grasped the importance of the situation at hand. However – and lo, there’s some fresh pickle on the mouldy burger – Watkins proves to be adept at directing action, and there are a couple of scenes here that stand up to a lot of the set pieces you’ll have seen in the past decade’s Jason Bourne, Ethan Hunt or James Bond-related films. A breathless chase across the rooftops is an early highlight, with some fine stunt work, while a later fight involving five characters in the back of a van is very well choreographed and superbly stitched together by editor Jon Harris. Unfortunately such moments of quality are few and far between, and they cannot save Bastille Day as it careers into a final act of nonsensical, preposterous twaddle. And I don’t use the ‘T’ word lightly.
Directed by: James Watkins.
Written by: Andrew Baldwin.
Starring: Idris Elba, Richard Madden, Charlotte Le Bon, Eriq Ebouaney, José Garcia, Kelly Reilly, Anatol Yusef.
Cinematography: Tim Maurice-Jones.
Editing: Jon Harris.
Music: Alex Heffes.
Running Time: 91 minutes.
Mia Hansen-Løve’s Eden was my favourite film of 2015 (and if you have the time and the inclination you can read my first review of it here), so re-watching it has been high on my agenda since I picked up the special featureless-DVD the other week. I enjoyed it nearly as much the second time around – though this was at home rather than in a cinema – and I’ll reiterate that it’s great that dance music and club culture has finally received the kind of treatment it deserves (though I still admire Yolande Zauberman’s 1996 film Clubbed To Death). During this second viewing I was struck by Eden‘s structure once again. The story, which covers just over 20 years of the life of a DJ named Paul (Felix de Givry), builds to a euphoric crescendo at the middle, and the two halves of the film contrast by being upbeat and downbeat: the first hour is flush with youthful promise, and we see Paul and his friends attending raves, creating music and launching their own successful club nights; the second sees a downward trajectory as Paul, now in his 30s, struggles with debt and an addiction to cocaine, while his failure to change means he is left floundering as friends, girlfriends and club crowds desert him. In my review last year I said ‘the structure smartly brings to mind the sets played by more thoughtful DJs, the kind that Paul’s [garage house] hero Larry Levan was famous for creating in New York in the 1980s’, and I feel more certain now that this was Hansen-Løve’s intention, given the importance of this particular style of music and DJing to the main character and the direct references to Levan in the script. Of course you could argue Eden‘s also like an LP with two disparate sides, but we’re talking about a style of music that has rarely (if ever) successfully made the transition to long-form, i.e. the album, and I think the film-as-DJ-set theme works much better, personally.
Hansen-Løve repeats certain scenes to show the downturn in Paul’s fortune as well as the changing face of nightlife in Paris. When things are on the up we see the likes of Louise (Pauline Etienne) and Cyril (Roman Kolinka) blowing up balloons as the club night run by Paul and DJ partner Stan (Hugo Conzelmann) hits its peak; later, as a club owner asks the duo to try and attract a bigger crowd by playing more commercial hits, we see balloons being popped and a dancefloor being cleared; the metaphor couldn’t be clearer. In the first half of the film, when Stan and Paul bring singer Arnold Jarvis over from the US to sing at their weekly night Cheers, it goes smoothly and results in one of Eden‘s most euphoric scenes; in the second half the singer La India flies into Paris for the same reason, and sends herself up as a demanding diva, which in turn reveals how much Paul and Stan have become fed-up with running the club night for little or no profit. The two members of Daft Punk (played here by Arnaud Azoulay and Vincent Lacoste) show up regularly as a kind of 21st Century Charters and Caldicott, offering a hip and peculiarly Gallic strand of comic relief, but it’s interesting to compare the two scenes in which bouncers – rather amusingly – fail to recognise them and stop them from entering nightclubs: in the first instance, when they eventually enter the club it is packed, with the kind of sweaty, heaving dancefloor that makes gaining entry worthwhile; years later they are eventually let in to a half-empty basement bar, where Hansen-Løve subtly makes the point that cocktails, self-conscious posing and chilling out has become the norm, rather than shape-throwing and singing along with the words. And, lastly, there’s a nice switch with regard to the bank managers Paul visits to extend his overdraft; in the first half a man allows the DJ to increase his own debt; in the second half he’s replaced by a woman who instantly puts a structure in place that will force Paul to take control of his finances for the first time.
Of course there’s more to any film than it’s structure, but I’ve already stated several reasons why I like Eden in my first review, and don’t want to repeat them all here. I did, however, notice a few other touches the second time round. Though her part is small, Greta Gerwig’s character is far more important than her screen time suggests, given that she’s the girl who first breaks Paul’s heart as a teenager, and his actions during other relationships (particularly during his on-off love affair with Louise) are often informed by that rejection. I like the fact some of these end off screen when the narrative lurches forward by two or three years; a conventional drama would include the moment that Paul’s affair with Yasmin (Golshifteh Farahani) ends, for example, but here Hansen-Løve cuts from a scene in which it’s explained that Yasmin is clearing Paul’s apartment in the wake of his breakdown to a scene a couple of years later, when she has seemingly disappeared from his life. There’s no explanation as to what has happened. Similarly we never see the moment that Paul and Stan decide to go their separate ways after more than a decade of running parties and DJing together; instead, after a similar leap forward in time, we simply learn that Stan now has a child, and can assume the rest.
I’m not going to write much more, because as I ‘ve already said I’ve reviewed Eden once before, and it’s probably enough just to say here that the film is every bit as good as I remember it being (I had wondered, which I guess is natural). Hansen-Løve never lets it turn into a nostalgia fest – the scene in which a nervous Daft Punk drop Da Funk for the first time at a New Year’s Eve party aside – and the narrative subtly follows the rhythm of life through a period in time that I know well and subsequently identify with, which is certainly a factor in my love for it; I struggle to think of a film that is this perceptive about the shift from being in one’s 20s to being in ones’ 30s in the modern day, although Frances Ha dealt with a similar change in age, but within a much smaller timeframe. I like the music, and it’s clear the director – who co-wrote with DJ brother Sven – has a great feel for the club hits of the late 1980s and early-to-mid 1990s, while the various homages (New York, Chicago, the birthplaces of house and garage) are often incorporated subtly, and even the cameos by real-life DJs and singers add to the realistic tone. I also appreciate the way the story offers a mere hint of redemption for the main character at the end, ambiguously delivered via a Robert Creeley poem, this talented director ending the film with cinematic ellipsis …
… still my favourite release of 2015.
Directed by: Mia Hansen-Løve.
Written by: Mia Hansen-Løve, Sven Hansen-Løve.
Starring: Félix de Givry, Pauline Etienne, Vincent Macaigne, Roman Kolinka, Hugo Conzelmann, Zita Hanrot, Vincent Lacoste, Greta Gerwig, Arnaud Azoulsay, Golshifteh Farahani, Laura Smet.
Cinematography: Denis Lenoir.
Editing: Marion Monnier.
Running Time: 130 minutes.