Sunday, April 28, 2013

À Nos Amours

(Maurice Pialat, France, 1983)

My first Pialat film, and I was hooked from the first shot.  Meticulously observed, fiercely emotional, naturalistic but with a strong, almost instinctual sense of form.  You can see Pialat's roots as a painter, just as you can see his sense of liberation in the possibilities of cinema.  It's a terse, personal work, full of piss and vinegar, just like the man evidently was.  At times a bit too much piss and vinegar, I might add.  What is it about the French, that they seem to have made casual cruelty into a kind of performance art?  You see this in film after film.  People - and not just strangers, but intimates, lovers, family members -  say and do all kinds of horrible things to each other, and then either shrug it off or pretend it never happened.  It's enough to make one think that there was never a happy French family, one in which the women weren't long-suffering harpies and shrews, or where the men weren't taciturn, colossally narcissistic assholes.

But the film's counterweight to its ample familial misery is contained in the delicate, even slightly swoony depiction of Sandrine Bonnaire as Suzanne, the sexually voracious and eminently confused young protagonist.  Suzanne's plight is simple enough, but it's revealed with great subtlety by Pialat (who also stars as the girl's narcissistic asshole Dad).  Her emotional needs totally abandoned by her dysfunctional family, she hooks up with a whole slew of French dudes (and one ratty American), most of whom are as uninterested in her as she is in them.  As we soon discover, the only person she loves is her father, who has established with finality her archetypal paramour - infrequently affectionate, mostly absent, occasionally vicious, and emotionally remote. 

Bonnaire's performance is a pitch-perfect depiction of a troubled teen, and Pialat captures her interactions with effortless grace.  His camera is agile and at times even elegant, casting the same tearless eye on both the breezy seductions and the terrible discord.  It's mostly handheld, but it keeps a consistent sense of space.  Pialat understands, and God bless him for it, that the handheld style should be as rigorous and considered as any other.  He doesn't abuse the jump cut or the motility of his camera, and he has a sensitive eye for light and color.  But the performances are his main focus, and he orchestrates some truly terrific (and terrifying) ones from his talented cast.  It's a fascinating and inspiring new dimension of filmmaking that I'm lucky to have discovered.

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