35 Shots Of Rum The other night while watching Claire Denis’ 35 Shots Of Rum, I suddenly realised I was falling in love. It’s happened to me before, this feeling where you’re comfortable and warm-blooded from your head to your toes and the hairs on the back of your neck are standing up and you suddenly put your trust 150% in the director, certain that he or she will follow his or her muse anywhere and that it will deliver even further. The last film I saw that left me feeling this way was Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru – and don’t get me wrong, Denis’ film isn’t quite as good as Ikiru per se (the slow pace and lack of any solid answers do take some easing into) but her film still left me touched in very much the same way.
Told in a noticeably oblique style, 35 Shots Of Rum follows the lives of train driver Lionel (Alex Descas) and his daughter Joséphine (Mati Diop) as they… well, live. They buy rice cookers and have dinner. They hug. They argue over Joséphine’s cleaning. Lionel’s friend René (Julieth Mars Touissant) retires and goes through a sort of mid-life crisis. Joséphine goes to work in a music shop. The father and daughter go to a concert with their extended family, a taxi driver called Gabrielle (Nicole Dogue, the film’s MVP) and a traveller of sorts called Noé (Grégoire Colin).
Leading on from this, there’s a pivotal scene shot in a tiny café where everyone is fed some sort of North African food and Nightshift by the Commodores starts playing, leading to everyone dancing. The sequence lasts about five minutes and it’s such a precise and impassioned piece of filmmaking that it really takes your breath away, and yet the film continues, never really picking up the events of the scene and running onwards with them. It’s just how life is, and Denis needs to be commended on making a film about the family unit that actually dares to focus on the warm relationship between Joséphine and Lionel without ever nearing maudlin.
35 Shots Of Rum is all about the nature of change and the way the family at the centre of the film work to understand it. And it changed this festival for me – as much as I loved Sin Nombre or The Hurt Locker, Denis’ film may just be my favourite film screened in Edinburgh this year. If I still feel this way in a few months, it’ll be my favourite film of the year. I don’t want this honeymoon period to end.
On Friday, I saw two films about turning points in youth, films about recklessness, romance and rebellion. They were called I’m Gonna Explode and Unmade Beds, and they would make a fantastic double-bill in your local cinema. My friend Carl disliked both of them, so I’m tempted to call it the ‘Carl Had The Wrong Idea Here’ double-bill.
I’m Gonna ExplodeI’m Gonna Explode is the third feature-length from Mexican director Gerardo Naranjo, showing the intense coming together of Román (Juan Pablo de Santiago) and Maru (Maria Deshcamps). Román is expelled from school after his violent diary (where his plans to kill his teachers lie) is exposed and is sent to a public school, a first for the congressman’s son. There, he meets Maru in detention following a mock hanging at a school show; she is there for being the only person applauding his gallows act. Together, they concoct a plan to run away and go on an adventure, yet this means that they will merely hide out on the roof of Román’s family mansion under – or over – everybody’s nose. Nonetheless, the parents lose it and get the authorities involved, thinking that Román has kidnapped Maru…
At first, Naranjo moves things along at an absolutely blistering pace – the director’s note in the press pack reveals his intentions to make “a truthful film about an energy, an angst against stillness”. However, when the heady rush of the two teenagers’ escape (for lack of a better word) has passed and they have moved up onto the roof, Naranjo slows down his pacing to allow us to gaze into Román and Maru’s relationship, a union defined more by rash actions than smart decisions, defined by their shared rebellion more than anything else. And what is rebellion, then?
It’s getting drunk, barbequing food on the roof and having sex. It is heavily implied that this supposed rebellion is deeply conservative, as their parents can be found doing pretty much the same things. A shot of Román’s poster of The Smiths in their tent helps seal the deal – this isn’t their rebellion, but an unintentional lapse into the ideas and movements of generations past. As they relentlessly bicker with each other like a married couple, it’s obvious that today’s rebellion is just an early inauguration into an early adulthood, no matter how much they deny it.
Unmade Beds The main characters in Alexis Dos Santos’ Unmade Beds – head-in-the-sky dreamer Axl (Fernando Tielve) and impishly playful Vera (Déborah François) – don’t talk of rebellion but the lives they lead are maybe just as messy and aimless as Maru and Román’s. Their lives are mostly just a series of events leading towards the next good night out, and those nights are where Unmade Beds spins its story from.
Axl, who has slept on various beds all over London without ever finding a real place to lay his head, is looking for his estate agent father (Richard Lintern) inbetween exploring his sexuality and getting absolutely blitzed as much as possible. Vera meets a handsome young man on a night out and embarks on a romance with two simple rules: “you say when and I say where”. The only problem with this romance is that, oops, she doesn’t have his mobile number or know his name.
And that’s Unmade Beds in a nutshell. That’s not necessarily a fault, though. Where Naranjo’s film is practically packed with incident to the point of overflowing, Dos Santos presents a more wistful thing, evocative of alcohol-drenched dancefloors and hazy mornings spent catching buses and moving furniture, ruminating on the night before and the night to come. It’s a delicate, lovely film where I’m Gonna Explode is cynical and dangerous. Dos Santos and Naranjo come short of greatness in their efforts, but with a better grasp on their material, they’ll reach it. Still, that all seems very adult and overly responsible. For now, a youthful double bill will do just fine.