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cinemadaily | A Double Dose of Denis

cinemadaily | A Double Dose of Denis

Just as Claire Denis’ latest “White Material” gets its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival this week, the beloved French filmmaker’s “35 Shots of Rum” opens today at New York’s Film Forum. A survey of what critics are saying about both films:

“Claire Denis returns to Africa in ‘White Material,’ a powerful recognition of the continent’s tragic present that focuses on a white plantation owner desperate to hold on to her land, despite roving militias and child soldiers,” writes Jay Weissberg in Variety. “Unsurprisingly devoid of the kind of faux-liberal displacement/wish fulfillment or colonialist superiority that mars so many First World treatments of the subject, Denis’ film views the continent as a kind of drug, intoxicating yet perilous, that never leaves the system.”

Time Out’s David Jenkins on “White Material”: “Fans of the director’s melancholic and insidiously bitter debut, ‘Chocolat’, will notice parallels with that film, not least the flashback structure, but also the strong sense of injustice as bourgeois white ex-pats blithely exploit local labourers to amass lucre, totally blind to the widespread suffering occurring just outside the gates of their luxurious enclosure. And again, Denis’s free-flowing direction (along with the cinematography of Yves Cape) manages to simultaneously encapsulate both the breathtaking beauty and abject horror of the African cultural landscape.”

“Postcolonial critiques are not wholly unexpected in French art filmmaking, and neither are dramatizations of war-torn Africa from white perspectives uncommon,” observes Michael Koresky in his review for indieWIRE. “Yet with Claire Denis at the helm, this is hardly the same old story. While less abstract than many of her other works, “White Material” is similarly open-ended and purely experiential, and its way of playing with viewer identification with its protagonist is reminiscent of such works as “L’Intrus” and “I Can’t Sleep.”

The A.V. Club’s Scott Tobias: “As usual, Denis assembles the big picture from a series of very small moments—some of the striking landscape, others of the child-warriors recruited into war, and still more that hint at Huppert’s psychosis and countless other ideas and images at play. The middle section of ‘White Material’ could stand to be more purposeful—and Huppert’s son’s radical transformation in response to personal violence is too abrupt—but Denis brings it all together for a genuinely shocking finale.”

“’35 Shots of Rum,’ a quiet and lovely new film by the French director Claire Denis, is partly concerned with measuring that distance, the bewildering chasm between huge and tumultuous international movements and individual lives,” writes the New York Times’ A.O. Scott. “In its modest scope and mellow tone, ’35 Shots of Rum’ resembles Olivier Assayas’s ‘Summer Hours,’ another recent film by a French director who has sometimes trafficked in provocation and extremity. Both movies embed extraordinary thematic richness within a simple, almost anecdotal narrative framework, and both achieve a rare eloquence about the state of the world by means of tact and reticence.”

The Village Voice’s Melissa Anderson: “Recent American films about families, like last year’s ‘Rachel Getting Married’ and ‘Revolutionary Road,’ all too often pierce eardrums with unrelenting shrieks of dysfunction and misery. Amid the din, French filmmaker Claire Denis’s sublime ’35 Shots of Rum’ stands out all the more for its soothing quiet (one character is even admonished for her yelling), conveying the easy, frequently nonverbal intimacy between a widowed father, Lionel (Alex Descas), and his diligent university-student daughter, Joséphine (Mati Diop). An homage to both Yasujiro Ozu’s similarly themed ‘Late Spring’ (1949) and her own mother’s relationship with her grandfather, ’35 Shots’ is Denis’s warmest, most radiant work, honoring a family of two’s extreme closeness while suggesting its potential for suffocation.”

“Despite her proclivity to present this film’s plot and character in a fragmentary manner, Denis here doesn’t purposely alienate us from them,” notes Michael Koresky in his review for indieWIRE. “Whereas in ‘L’Intrus’ (maybe her masterpiece this decade) the people and setting became highly allegorical and her and her brilliant DP Agnes Godard’s ability at conveying the tactility of experience easily segued into rich, novelistic abstraction, ’35 Shots of Rum’ remains grounded in relatable everydayness, even as it refuses to explain every character’s action and motivation.”

“Once again working with moody Brit band Tindersticks and cinematographer par excellence Agnes Godard, whose work here is both silky and warm, Denis depicts everyday details (buying a rice cooker, going to work) and conveys overarching emotional upheavals with a compassion and gentleness that’s quietly devastating,” blogs Nick Schager on “35 Shots of Rum.” “More straightforward than ‘The Intruder,’ her keenly observed latest pinpoints the pain and joy felt by parents and children as they learn to move on, never more so than in a sumptuous late-night café sequence that casts drinking and dancing as mechanisms for her characters’ process of gauging, changing and defining viewpoints.”

Reverse Shot’s latest edition has an entire symposium devoted to Claire Denis. You can read Adam Nayman’s interview with the director there.

Watch the trailer for “35 Shots of Rum” on YouTube.

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