35 SHOTS OF RUM
(director/writer: Claire Denis; screenwriter: Jean-Pol Fargeau; cinematographer: Agnès Godard; editor: Guy Lecorne; music: Tindersticks; cast: Alex Descas (Lionel), Mati Diop (Joséphine), Nicole Dogue (Gabrielle), Grégoire Colin (Noé), Ingrid Craven (German grandmother), Julieth Mars Toussaint (René); Runtime: 102; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Bruno Pesery; Cinema Guild; 2008-France-in French with English subtitles)
“The kind of precious quiet film that rarely gets made and is worth savoring for its alluring inner beauty.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
French writer-director Claire Denis (“Beau Travail”/”Friday Night”/”Trouble Every Day”) shoots an elegantly understated loving family drama highlighting a touching story of a close-knit relationship between a widowed father named Lionel (Alex Descas) and his pretty daughter named Jo (Mati Diop). The sublime film is a homage to Denis’s Brazilian grandfather and to the great director Yasujiro Ozu, and revels in Ozu-like minimalism, lack of dialogue, a quiet tone, the same type of Ozu denouement and many shots of passing trains that the Japanese filmmaker was noted for.
Set in Paris where the laconic African immigrant subway motorman Lionel lives with his perky social science major college student daughter Jo, who also works as a clerk in a record store at night, in a cozy apartment in a middle-class housing project. Also living in the project is the hard-working taxi driver Gabrielle (Nicole Dogue), dad’s former lover who still pines for him, and Noé (Grégoire Colin), an educated young white man who dates Jo and is an avid globe-trotter.
Nothing much happens in this character-driven story, that is basically plotless. Noé feels rejected by Jo and plans to take a job overseas in Gabon. Dad buys Jo a rice cooker. Dad’s depressed workplace colleague René (Julieth Mars Toussaint) commits suicide after retiring and returning a book on how to combat depression that Lionel lent him. The housing project foursome go to a concert but Gabby’s taxi breaks down and they miss the concert only to stopover at a nearby African cafe, where dad dances with the attractive owner while a jealous Gabby just glares. And, a visit to Germany to see Jo’s grandmother and visit mom’s grave. It ends with the unseen marriage between Jo and Noé, with dad quietly celebrating by drinking 35 shots of rum.
I found it easy to connect with this brilliantly tender family drama that tries to make the world seem like a smaller place. It takes us smoothly through a rite of passage that has Jo, after a lifetime of living in serene harmony with dad, ready to start a new life. A time like that becomes significant for both dad and daughter, as Descas and Diop give such dear performances that we see in their smallest gestures and in their unspoken thoughts how much this change means to each. It’s a Father of the Bride (1950) story, that takes away the Hollywood gloss and lets us experience real feelings from real people. This is the kind of precious quiet film that rarely gets made and is worth savoring for its alluring inner beauty, and its insistence that we accept the mundane as readily as we accept big events.
REVIEWED ON 4/19/2010 GRADE: A