35 Shots of Rum (Denis, 2008) is a bit of a departure, both for Claire Denis and for me. It is still as incisive and poetic as her other work, but she has replaced the usual turbulent heart of her cinema with a tranquil one. Being a loving homage to Yasujirō Ozu, this makes complete sense. What might not make sense is how this is my favorite Denis film. I, too, usually favor films that are more tumultuous and chaotic, but there is something special about this sedate and loving family drama. I think one of the things that makes it so completely satisfying is that every terrible and shocking thing that we are conditioned to expect never comes to pass. It thoroughly confounds our instincts and our tendency to anticipate darkness. It is honest and true, centering on the steadfast presence of Alex Descas as the anchor of the proceedings. They are frequent collaborators and he was the first person she thought of when considering who had the necessary qualities of paternal devotion and stoic dependability. She couldn’t have made a better choice. With him as our engineer, we navigate the monumental event of a child leaving home. We experience grief and joy in equal measure, arriving safely at our destination, better for the journey. All aboard the Claire Denis train! Have I extended that metaphor far enough? Ok. The point is, I hope you see it and love it as much as I do and then use it as a gentle way into her potent filmography. You won’t be disappointed.
What you’ll find in this episode: trains, rice cookers, the discomfort of devotion, and a pitch for the body-switching prequel to this film.
Links and Recommendations:
Check out 35 Shots of Rum on IMDB.
Ericca’s further viewing pick of Stories We Tell.
Cole’s further viewing pick of Late Spring.
An illustrated history of the French rail system.
This person loves their rice cooker as much as I love mine.
A great profile of Claire Denis in The New Yorker.