Sunday, July 10, 2022

Claire Denis' "Both Sides of the Blade” at SIFF Cinema: Jul 15 - 21

Broadly thematically varied, from explorations of masculine camaraderie, observations on the post-Colonial landscape of both Africa and Paris, to sharp-edged gender relations, neo-noir thrillers, and bizarre science run amok, Claire Denis' filmography navigates the spaces between traditional narrative and more structurally adventurous cinema. Her films have consistently fashioned an interplay of the gravitational pulls inherent in each of these corresponding forms. Denis is herself a complex and irreducible intellect, as made clear in recent interviews on both gender representation in Cannes, and the wider field of women artists, "Claire Denis: ‘I Couldn’t Care Less About the Weinstein Affair'", and for the Irish Times, "‘We are Normal People. Even Though We are French’". Recent representations of her craft can be seen in 2008's masterpiece on class, race and urban life, conveyed through light and motion that was "35 Shots of Rum", and 2014's ominous neo-noir crime thriller, "Bastards". The latter bringing its audience deep into the nightmare of one family's decomposition from the inside with their brush with power, corruption and an immoral French elite. In a sense all of her work can be seen as, "Family Films of a Very Different Sort". Another constant of her work, one that she shares with the best of her peers, (think David Lynch, Steve McQueen, Apichatpong Weeraseathakul) is the elliptical nature of it's narrative and visual structure. Looping back on itself, projecting ahead, fusing impression, experience and dream, these structural and thematic signatures are abundantly detailed in Nick Pinkerton's Claire Denis interview for Film Comment and Senses of Cinema's "Dancing Reveals So Much: An Interview with Claire Denis". More recently, in her crowning point from Cannes 2017, she delivered a subtly pointed observation on contemporary French life in, "Let the Sunshine In". This elegant, eccentric relationship comedy of ideas on middle age, expressed itself with an almost inscrutable sophistication, "Un Beau Soleil Interieur: Juliette Binoche Excels". Taking a typically dynamic about-turn, Denis then produced her first explicitly science fiction work to-date with "High Life" featuring a much larger production, special effects, lead stars in Binoche and Robbert Pattinson, and a screenplay by Nick Laird and Zadie Smith, the following year.

In her observation on the diminishing of content in the modern era that might traverse such complex and charged territory, Catherine Shoard selects “The Fearless Cinema of Claire Denis” as the antithesis to these trends. Expressly the depiction of sex, sexual power and psychology in the director’s 2018 entry, "Claire Denis on High Life, Robert Pattinson, and Putting Juliette Binoche in a “F*ckbox”. The film’s sexual and corporeal focus on a unflinching exploration of "The Fleshy Frontier", and past traditions in related is cinema are considered in John Semley's piece for The Baffler. These multifaceted bodily, sexual, and psychological tensions also succinctly delineated in Charles Bramesco’s review, “High Life: Orgasmic Brilliance in Deepest Space with Robert Pattinson”. Which brings us to her two current films of this year and last. Born of the much-delayed adaptation of Denis Johnson's "Stars at Noon", and the numerous complexities of the film's long gestation, including its star Robert Pattinson having to leave the project over schedule conflicts, "Stars at Noon" finally arrived at Cannes of this year where it was awarded the Grand Prix. This "Languid Tale of Sex, Lies and Intrigue in the Nicaraguan Heat", is in many ways a compelling companion for "Both Sides of the Blade". This earlier film is a much more intimate production with a smaller cast and setting, all of which made necessary by the pandemic. In the interim of the year between films, born of conversations between Denis and its lead actor Vincent Lindon, they produced an subtly radical film within the traditional parameters of the bourgeois marital drama. Its premiere at the Berlinale contributed to a wider theme of, "Women Dominate Berlin Film Festival Awards as 'Alcarràs' wins Golden Bear", wherein it was said that "Berlinale 2022: Life is Beautiful". Discussing "Film Comment Interview: Claire Denis on Fire", the director touches on the simplicity and intimacy of its production, and her utilizing the year of the pandemic to create a film with Vincent Lindon and Juliette Binoche, and a small crew, crafting in the end, "Claire Denis’ Many-Faced Love Story".