Saturday, November 08, 2008

US Go Home

1994, France, directed by Claire Denis

US Go Home is Claire Denis's entry in the (legendary) French television project "Tous les garçons et les filles de leur âge." The project - which took its title from a Françoise Hardy song - brought together nine directors, each of whom was asked to make a one-hour film about the time when he or she came of age. Several of the films were released as longer theatrical features, but Denis's entry, the final film in the series, adheres to the prescribed length, as well as to the project's other requirements, including the need to include a party scene.

The film is rarely screened, so it was a particular treat to see it and then hear Denis speak about the film afterwards (the Harvard Film Archive recently did a retrospective of her work). She commented that the apparent restrictions of the format were paradoxically liberating: although the project was initiated by someone else, she felt a great freedom in making the film. That sense of freedom is apparent on the screen: it's a beguilingly loose work, atmospheric and intoxicating, with the actors given much room to express themselves. That's particularly obvious in a wonderful early scene in which Grégoire Colin (very much part of the Denis stable ever since, though some of his appearances are the very definition of "fleeting") dances to The Animals' Hey Gyp.

Denis holds the camera on the actor for the entire length of the song (nearly four minutes), allowing serendipity to take some hand in the results (she highlighted particularly an accident where Colin knocked over a lamp, the kind of happy accident that occurs later in the film, too, when Alice Houri has trouble getting a cigarette to light). The scene is a precursor to the extraordinary final sequence in Denis' subsequent Beau Travail, where Denis Lavant dances alone in a discotheque (both actors use cigarettes as props, too). Denis said that the scene was filmed on the first day of the shoot, just a week after she had first met Colin: he was a last-second replacement for an actor who had broken his leg, and she wanted to test him, partly because he was already a trained actor (unlike Alice Houri) and partly because he was so shy. She also noted that allowing the camera to roll much longer than is usually the case creates a certain kind of tension on the set, and she lets other scenes in the film play out at length to see what emerges from the performances.

The core of the film, like that of Olivier Assayas's L'Eau froide, another film in the series, is a long party scene, shot in the half-light of a hazy late night, couples forming and separating, songs cascading one after the other (music is critical to the film, with the final song, by Nico, marking the literal end of an era). Denis captures, with her usual acute sense of atmosphere, the strange sensations of a party that goes on long into the night, with alcohol and cigarettes taking their toll, the guests falling asleep in chairs and in one another's arms. The strange night continues as the Houri and Colin (who play, as in Nénette et Boni, sister and brother) encounter an American soldier (Vincent Gallo) driving around alone in the forest near Rungis, where Denis first lived in France, and concludes with a beautifully composed pre-dawn shot that brings the characters back home.

No comments:


List of all movies

Most of the images here are either studio publicity stills or screen captures I've made myself; if I've taken your image without giving you credit, please let me know.

About Me

Boston, Massachusetts, United States