Last year i attended a Screening/Q&A of Sofia Coppola’s latest film ‘Somewhere’ (a movie i included on my TOP 10 movies of 2010). After the movie I asked Sofia if some of her motivation for making the film was 2008’s ‘35 Shots Of Rum’. Both movies are a positive look at fatherhood (specifically single fathers raising daughters) both directed by women and have the same chilled out, dreamy atmosphere. I had high hopes this conversation would open up a nice chain of dialogue between her and I. I know the term “female director” is silly, but these last few years its been almost impossible to not recognize that women have been putting in serious work behind the camera (Sofia Coppola, Claire Denis, Marina De Van, Katheryn Bigelow, Lynne Ramsay, etc etc). Its very similar to that period in the 90’s when black filmmakers (Spike Lee, Mario Van Peeples, John Singleton, Matty Rich, etc) had their mini-explosion for a few years. Anyway, I made the naive assumption that Coppola was inspired by Denis not just because she was another female director, but they’re latest movies were very similar. To my disappointment, Sofia Coppola had no idea what i was talking about. She hadn’t seen ‘35 Shots Of Rum’, so that kinda ended the dialogue between us pretty quickly (although before I sat down, I highly recommended that she check it out). Even though Sofia drew no inspiration from Claire Denis’ ‘35 Shots Of Rum’, they’re still spiritually connected in the same way as ‘Blue Velvet’ & ‘Something Wild’, ‘Lost Highway’ & ‘Crash’ (1996), ‘Kes’ & ‘Ratcatcher’ and many more.
Hints & Implications are 2 words i often use when talking about Claire Denis’ style, and ‘35 Shots’ may be the best example of that. To sum the movie up nicely, its a story about a widowed father (“Lionel”) and his relationship with his daughter (“Josephine”), neighbors, co-workers and close friends. Its never directly said his wife died, but through Denis’ unique film making style, you just kinda know. Sounds pretty boring, right? A father/daughter movie with no abuse or dysfunction where barely anyone raises their voice. But its surprisingly a very engaging, interesting film with both serious and/or heartwarming moments as well as funny moments. I don’t know If I’d include this in my Top 50 films of the decade, but it would easily be an honorable mention (and besides, Claire Denis already has a couple of films on that list so its OK).
‘35 Shots Of Rum’ is partially inspired by Yasujiru Ozu, specifically his films ‘Early Summer’ & ‘Late Spring’, in the sense that a big part of the film deals with a father learning to let go of his daughter.
“(35 Shots) grew under the shade of Late Spring” – Claire Denis (NY Times, 2009)
There’s little side stories and subplots involving the supporting characters that surround Lionel & Jospehine: 2 different men (“Noe” & “Ruben”) are pursuing Jospehine, one of their neighbors (“Gabrielle”) clearly has a “thing” for Lionel and is trying to be somewhat of a mother figure to Josephine & Lionel’s friend/co-worker (“Rene”) has been forced in to early retirement for an unnamed reason which puts him in a deep depression. Whats also quite interesting is that there’s no explanation as to why the movie is actually called ‘35 Shots Of Rum’. There’s a few hints, but nothing is completely explained.
In my “Cinema Of Claire Denis” exploration (which can be used as a great study guide when reading about her films on this site), Intimacy was one of the categories. This one movie alone could be studied on how she creates so many great intimate moments (both romantic and non-romantic) with just a simple touch or stroke of the face. There’s intimate moments between family members, friends and lovers in ‘35 Shots Of Rum’ that connect with so many other previous Denis films like ‘Trouble Every Day’ or ‘Friday Night’.
This may be his best performance next to ‘No Fear, No Die’ (Descas’ first collaboration with Denis) or ‘Lumumba’ (where he plays Mobutu). Its one of those performances that grows on you or creeps up on you over the years and makes you realize how quietly amazing and commanding he is in ‘35 Shots Of Rum’ (and just about anything else he’s in). ‘No Fear No Die’ is becoming more and more rare these days, so ‘35 Shots Of Rum’ might be the best film to introduce someone to Alex Descas. In an interview, Claire Denis had this to say about her longtime collaborator…
“I would not make the film without him. I think that Alex Descas always has a past, don’t you? It’s like he brings an inside story to his characters” – Claire Denis (reverseshot.com)
This statement could be said about almost all of the characters Descas has played over the years. His stern face and minimal facial expressions really do make him a more mysterious figure. He has the same face and mannerisms in most films, yet you never get bored watching him. Seeing him smile kinda feels like a treat because its so rare on camera. In ‘35 Shots Of Rum’ his character deals with a lot of issues internally. His friend and co-worker commits suicide, he still thinks about his wife and he’s coming to terms that his daughter is no longer a little kid. Vincent London in ‘Friday Night’ and Denis Lavant in ‘Beau Travail’ are probably the only actors to come close to matching Descas’ leading man persona in a Claire Denis film.
‘35 Shots’ is definitely in the top half of Denis’ filmography. It’s one of her only films that (in my opinion) doesn’t draw inspiration from the directors she’s commonly associated with like; Jarmusch, Wim Wenders or Tarkovsky. Claire Denis has always professed her love of Ozu’s work, but this is the first film that really draws a direct influence. Furthermore, this is the first NON-DYSFUNCTIONAL family film that Denis has ever done. ‘Nenette & Boni’ is about 2 estranged siblings (one a pregnant teen) that both hate their father. And the family dynamic in both; ‘I Cant Sleep’ and ‘White Material’ are dysfunctional as well.
Even after all that I’ve just said about it, there’s still an indescribably sweet yet mature atmosphere i cant put in to words. It’s a must see.