Monday, July 07, 2008

Désordre

France, 1986, directed by Olivier Assayas

Rating: ****

It's not hard to trace many of Olivier Assayas's subsequent interests in this, his first feature (after several years as a critic for Les Cahiers du cinéma). Like L'Eau froide, for instance, Désordre deals with characters, who - in contrast to the inhabitants of many French films - tend to have great difficulty expressing themselves in words; there's a pervasive air of modern-day ennui, with the characters often drifting from one thing to the next, demonstrating little sense of pleasure in life, even when they're following the musical dreams that bring them together.


As in his later work, Assayas looks persistently outwards: where later films deal with Asia, for instance, this story of apparently small-scale musicians moves to London and later to New York (a version of New York that hearkens back to early-period Abel Ferrara, but which has essentially disappeared now), the music an international hybrid sung in English (and reminiscent, at least in the oddball stage stylings, of Ian Curtis and Joy Division).


The film opens with a shot of a tiled roof, dripping wet: the shot recalls Hong Kong action cinema, and it's easy to imagine a black-clad fighter emerging from the shadows; the camera tracks down, however, to a more prosaic - though ultimately no less dramatic - scene of petty crime, an event that overshadows the rest of the film, but which Assayas refuses to over-dramatise (the very fact of underplaying the consequences of the scene reinforces their enormity, as well as the human capacity for concealment).


Assayas makes use of a very limited colour palette (unless there was something strange about the copy I saw), leaching out the brightness in favour of a drab, industrialised greys; the rare outdoor scenes take place in overcast, wintry weather (the film might have been named Fin janvier, début février), reinforcing the oppressive atmosphere. While Désordre doesn't have quite the emotional resonance of several of Assayas's later films - unless, perhaps, one identifies with the characters to a greater degree - it's an impressively controlled piece of work that refuses easy resolution.

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