Tribeca Film Festival, 2008: "The Milky Way" (Moullet, France)

Daniel Kasman
Undoubtedly the best fictional film to play at the Tribeca Film Festival is Luc Moullet's fantastic, weird little short, The Milky Way, where-in the strangeness of the world blossoms in cinema's simplicity. Beginning with echoes of Moullet's termite French New Wave film The Smugglers (1968), rocky slate crumbles down a hillside as two young farmers dressed as paramilitary peasants discover their father in the arms of Parisian woman new to the area. This deadpan comedy begins in all its awkward bodies (the Parisian painting the valley face, the farmer's pants undone thrusting on the ground, boys slipping and sliding down the hill), awkward lines ("Shit, my sons!"), and awkward, modernist diagonals of the landscape. Moullet's wonderfully surreal, natural photography gives this unclassifiable film an aura of realism as subtle as its delightfully ungainly stabs of dissonant cutting, music, and comedy. Craggy amateurism still reigns in Moullet's eccentric work, and reigns supreme.
From this untoppable prelude, the mistress' son must travel the 300 meters to the neighboring farm to obtain milk for a béchamel sauce, but the son quivers in fear at the thought of confronting the farmer's wife, knowing, as both he and she knows, the adulterous affair of the land that her husband and the boy's mother are having. So the boy and his sister linger, the girl taunting him as the two take their time walking a very short path, shortcuts scorned, feet shuffled to the max, horror-like dissonance produced by cut-aways to the ever closer neighbor's farm, and the boy's imagination running wild with dangerous confrontations with the farmer's purple-haired wife and her armed and clearly militant sons.
Something out of nothing but inspiration seems to be the creed of the French New Wave, and Moullet continues on strong, even if the filmmaker is currently mostly ignored in the U.S., perhaps due to the unavailability of his works (though a number are now available on DVD), more likely due to his eccentric combination of faux-amateurism, a kind of lo-fi love of creaky construction, flat jokes, and extreme punctuation. Yet with something as charming as The Milky Way and simple in its pleasures—pastoral-realist photography, whimsical-banal plot, tsk-tsk final moral as a punch-line—one hopes Moullet will convince the ignorant of the greatness, the immediacy, and the sharp vitality of his work.
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