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Hélène de Saint-Père
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Isaach De Bankolé,
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I was looking for another film by this filmmaker, promised to two readers. Unable to find it, I turned to this. I count myself lucky. It's potent stuff if you can place yourself inside.
One possible way is to note the Ozu influence. Most comments mention it. It's in the quiet family life between widowed father and his only daughter, in the dispassionate eye that gently embraces rhythms, in the lack of ego and hurt among the participants. He a train driver, attuned to a calm linear life that he controls, she a sociologist student, opening up to exploring and conceptualizing her ideas about things.
This is all a great entry, Denis films warmth, equanimity, assurance in simply the presence of two people together. There's no dissatisfaction in the routine, no loneliness in the solitude. Denis has adopted Zen indirectly via cinematic Ozu, this character is not apparent in another of her films I've seen, which only affirms that she's open and agile in her work, refusing to settle.
That's all fine in itself, I'll have this in my home over existential rumination every time, but Ozu is a bit more than tender tea in composed form. He begins with a rhythm that sets the spatiotemporal mechanism, and only after we have acquired presence does he introduce the dramatic event, usually a single one, usually marriage. The deeper thrust is that we'll go around that bend with more clarity than usual, registering transition in a cosmic way. A Japanese girl deciding on marriage was deciding on her future life after all; this needs to settle as deeply in us.
This is all about cosmic transition, albeit in even softer strokes. A larger family has been introduced in between, another woman who has feelings for the widower, a boy who has feelings for the girl. They all live in the same building. There's a lovely spatial fabric that brings them together, for instance the boy coming up the stairs pauses in the hall and intently stares at the girl's door, the intensity is that he's not just looking at a piece of wood but through that, intently as if to part the image, into the space of a possible life beyond.
So this isn't about just rhythm and composed space. It's about the neighbor woman smoking at her window hoping to see the man but not being sure this is it.
It all comes together in a marvelous scene of dancing in a small neighborhood bar, a crank has been thrown in their concert plans for the evening, their car that breaks down, so life spontaneously resumes on the spot to figure itself out. The deeper thrust is that they all have to go on. The father has to let his daughter go, the girl has to move on from the family nest, the boy has to come to terms that he might have to move on alone, the neighbor woman move on without making her feelings known. A train colleague receives his pension as the film starts, he also has to move on but can't envision another life ahead; sure enough he's discovered near the end dead on the tracks by the father.
The game with 35 shots is another entry; they do it, the father muses in a bar, to mark something that only happens once, life in a broader sense.
The ending poses a conundrum. You'll probably have a sense of what Denis is trying to accomplish by that point. She has removed the one thing that significantly held Ozu back, explaining from the outside. So she's looking to embody the transition that is more than an event. Indirectly this brings her in line with every other filmmaker currently worth knowing in the attempt to create a new visual logic for becoming conscious. Denis is uniquely equipped in having seen Tarkovsky at work. So the film becomes muddled, crispness must go at that point. The whole idea is that they are both in the end still unsure about it, this is anchored in the nervous image of the boy in the hall. Did she do it?
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