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Claire Denis (#110 of 20)

Cannes Film Festival 2017 Claire Denis’s Let the Sunshine In

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Cannes Film Review: Let the Sunshine In

Sundance Selects

Cannes Film Review: Let the Sunshine In

Claire Denis’s Let the Sunshine In is an exquisite romantic comedy whose laughs are sad and whose sadness is funny. Denis isn’t a filmmaker who lets the complexity of the human emotions that she either captures physically or insinuates psychologically settle into easy interpretation and understanding, and Let the Sunshine In, her lightest film to date, shades its relationship dynamics with existential panic, insecurities, unabashed biases of class, and, of course, an intimate understanding of the sexual politic.

Juliette Binoche provides the perfect gateway drug for Denis into the realm of the rom-com. In both body and mind, the actress’s Isabelle—a divorced Parisian artist who flits rather fickly from one romantic partner to the next—always commands the audience’s attention and curiosity. And Denis meets her star’s quixotic, swooning screen presence with subtle adaptations of her filmmaking to this new genre form. A scene of escalating banter between Isabelle and the rude, married business man that she’s been hate-fucking offers a variation of the shot-reverse-shot grammar that the actors’ blocking would typically call for, as Denis opts for a single take that floats back and forth in dreamy fashion but also with a sense of needling anxiety.

New York Film Festival 2013: Bastards Review

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New York Film Festival 2013: <em>Bastards</em> Review
New York Film Festival 2013: <em>Bastards</em> Review

There’s no shortage of bastards in this tale about the destructive power of a deeply dysfunctional family, but if the men inflict most of the violence, the women bear their share of the blame for the damage done. In the Q&A after the press screening, Claire Denis said: “They [women] are victims, for sure, often. But I don’t want a film to give them pity always. I prefer to be fierce with them.” Her story keeps circling back to questions of guilt and personal responsibility, each turn revealing more complications in her characters and their actions.

The beautiful young Justine (Lola Creton), who we see at the beginning and end of the film, and many times in between, in situations of great psychological and physical peril, isn’t just a victim but a wounded warrior who chooses her own fate, at least to some degree (in describing the drugs, alcohol, and rough sex that have landed her in the hospital, a doctor says Justine, “Didn’t spare herself anything”). Her father, who commits suicide at the start of the film, is no passive victim of the family’s pathology, but one of its main perpetrators. Her uncle, Marco (Vincent Lindon), a sea captain, comes home to avenge his family in classic action-hero style only to become a victim himself. And Justine’s mother, Sandra (Julie Bataille), whose emotional torment we initially pity, can also seem monstrous, willing to sacrifice everyone else to satisfy her need to feel blameless.

AFI Fest 2011: This Is Not a Film, Almayer’s Folly, & Hanaan

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AFI Fest 2011: <em>This Is Not a Film</em>, <em>Almayer’s Folly</em>, & <em>Hanaan</em>
AFI Fest 2011: <em>This Is Not a Film</em>, <em>Almayer’s Folly</em>, & <em>Hanaan</em>

Under house arrest and awaiting a verdict on his appeal from Iran’s supreme court, filmmaker Jafar Panahi spends much of This Is Not a Film remaking, rethinking, and reconstructing his Tehran apartment as a sandbox of cinema. Despite his isolation and self-doubt, every frame becomes a wondrous opportunity for expression, each corner of Panahi’s posh prison cell a mental trap door from his stifling physical entrapment. Panahi’s equipment is expectantly bare boned, consisting of only a PD-150 digital video camera, a smart phone, and some gaffer’s tape used to create spatial designs on the floor. Walls of natural light flood in from the world outside, often illuminating the empty spaces of Panahi’s rooms with a certain unexpected grace. Throughout the film’s tight 75-minute running time, Panahi perfectly captures the haunting illusion of time, how moments of reflection and fear can seamlessly overlap with the mundane, moment-to-moment process of waiting for one’s fate.

The Tindersticks Live…and a Chat with Organist/Pianist David Boulter

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The Tindersticks Live…and a Chat with Organist/Pianist David Boulter

Michelle Lee

The Tindersticks Live…and a Chat with Organist/Pianist David Boulter

The Tindersticks’ mini-tour for their new box set of soundtrack work for Claire Denis films graced Los Angeles Saturday night for a show at the little-known Luckman Fine Arts Complex. The band will be completing the tour tonight at the 54th San Francisco International Film Festival. I was able to catch the show and keyboardist David Boulter earlier in their tour for an interview.

SXSW 2011: The City Dark

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SXSW 2011: <em>The City Dark</em>
SXSW 2011: <em>The City Dark</em>

There’s something about the night that is beautiful, mysterious, and humbling all at once. Gazing at a clear night, glimpsing stars and other heavenly bodies light years away from our immediate sight, one could certainly choose to gawk at the prettiness of the sight. But there are also its magisterial cosmic implications to contemplate: how small we ultimately are in the grand scheme of things, how much is out there that we may not even realize exists, and ultimately how much we don’t know about this great big world surrounding all of us.

But how many people even bother to look at the night sky and contemplate such cosmic queries? Ian Cheney gets to heart of the matter and asks a rather more mundane question in his new documentary The City Dark: In this modern age of ours, how many of us can even see a clear night sky anymore?

Film Comment Selects 2011 Domain

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Film Comment Selects 2011: Domain
Film Comment Selects 2011: Domain

Most recently known for her roles in Claire Denis’s Trouble Every Day and The Intruder as, respectively, a feral cannibal and the Queen of the Northern Hemisphere (how’s that for range?), Béatrice Dalle can come off as such a crazy/sexy/cool presence (those eyes! That gap!) that one can easily forget the actress at work beneath the defiantly carnal exterior. Patric Chiha sees both, and uses them to quietly heartrending effect in Domain, a film shaped by the divide between appearance and reality—or, more to the point, perceived order and underlying chaos.

This recognition of emotional disarray beneath chic exteriors occurs slowly within Domain, metered out in Chiha’s pensive images of fog-shrouded clubs and autumnal city parks under cloudy skies. When we first lay eyes on Nadia (Dalle), she’s refilling the champagne glasses of her academic and art-world friends as they lounge around a beach bonfire. Worldly and elegant, Nadia proves a logical fairy godmother for Pierre (Isaïe Sultan), her gay 17-year-old nephew, who sits on the edge of the group but gazes on with hungry eyes. There’s a hint of Olivier Assayas in this scene (something to do with how attuned Chiha is to the emotional and conversational cross-currents of his ever-so-bohemian collective) and it elegantly sets up the casually rebellious world that so fervently draws Pierre to Nadia. Domain subtly toys with our expectations throughout its opening sequences, playing upon memories of other films that cast aging nonconformists as hip mentors to their doe-eyed queer charges. Their frequent walks through a Boudreaux park establish an unforced rapport between Nadia and Pierre, while Pierre’s fashion consultations with Nadia and trips to cafes and gay clubs underline her “cool aunt” status. Though Chiha’s camera remains studiously objective, we can’t help but see Nadia through Pierre’s star-struck eyes, and Dalle sashays through these scenes with stiletto-clicking authority and a touch of world-weary grace.