One Shot is a series that seeks to find an essence of cinema history in one single image of a movie.
The tension of a kind of tough-loving tenderness, an explosive humanity that tends to erupt from quiet dignity and subdued ennui, the masculine industrial complex undermined by a body resisting with each breath, each movement, minute and gigantic, a wildness ever loosening the repressive grip of societal control; such is the realm of Claire Denis. In her 1994 film U.S. Go Home, a teenage Gregoire Colin puts on a record—The Animals, “Hey Gyp”—sits on the bed briefly, then hastily grabs and lights a cigarette as he starts mumbling along to lyrics about buying American cars and fancy houses and begging desperately for love, for sex. He glances casually past the fourth wall for a moment, past the camera, and the abyss of the present reality. The room is very small and occupied by the expected working-class furnishings, twin bed, chair, desk, a bookcase. The wallpaper is a familiar, kitschy, geometric pattern—boxes of various shades of brown punctuated by some record covers taped to the wall. This space is his enclosure but cannot truly contain him. He is an animal, both submitting to and at once resisting capture, the tiger in the zoo pacing back and forth plotting a great escape. The bed quickly becomes a stage for jumping, dancing, spastic frolicking: release. This is the universal language of teenage bedroom dancing. He dances like no one and everyone is watching. It doesn’t matter. He’s gotta move.
Denis is thoroughly in love with Colin. It’s undeniable, that deep love, desire, respect, and above all, trust. She knows she cannot contain him, control him. She can only let him loose in this small frame to go wild for the duration of the song. The room, the frame, is a launch pad for Colin to eject into space, his inner world bursting from his flailing limbs and transcending the reality of being in a movie. Then there’s a brief bit of longing as he stares out the window. The song winds down. He knows where he’s just been and where he’s landed, back into character and into that shabby little room. Self-satisfied with this transplendent performance yet resigned to return to the mundane, he and his character collapse onto the chair. An object clumsily cascades from the shelf behind him. Colin chuckles, amused at the unexpected and reminded of the physical space that once again closes in.