2008 // France // Claire Denis // November 20, 2009 // Theatrical Print (Landmark Plaza Frontenac Cinema)
Claire Denis' newest film, 35 Shots of Rum, exhibits a remarkable humanism that takes its time uncoiling and working its spell on you. With an unhurried and affectionate tone, the film weaves the story of a sagging Parisian apartment complex, where widower Lionel (Alex Descas) and his adult daughter Jospehine (Mati Diop) alternately resist and welcome the changes that life brings. Denis demonstrates a profound emotional grace in her approach, coaxing us to share her love of her characters by permitting us to see them without pretense or flattering poses. There is no cloying demand that we share Jo's fondness for her father. Rather, Denis bestows that fondness on the viewer by shooting Descas in a way that captures the gentleness and pain of his inner life. 35 Shots of Rum succeeds because of its modesty: there is no sense that Denis has constructed this intimate tale for our benefit, and its simple themes are wondrously emergent. Only a shocking and gratuitous development late in the film mars the pleasures of Denis' empathic observational power, but she rights things with a melancholy, ambiguous coda that nonetheless underlines her story with admirable precision.