35 Shots of Rum: Claire Denis by Way of Ozu

Recent American films about families, like Rachel Getting Married, all too often pierce eardrums with shrieks of dysfunction. Amid the din, French filmmaker Claire Denis' sublime 35 Shots of Rum stands out all the more for its soothing quiet, conveying the easy, frequently nonverbal intimacy between a widowed father, Lionel (Alex Descas), and his university-student daughter, Joséphine (Mati Diop). An homage to Yasujiro Ozu's similarly themed 1949 Late Spring, 35 Shots is Denis' warmest, most radiant work, honoring a family of two's extreme closeness while suggesting its potential for suffocation. 35 Shots is firmly rooted in place, with several scenes unfolding in an apartment building in a run-down section of Paris' 18th arrondissement, home to Lionel and Joséphine; Gabrielle (Nicole Dogue), an ex of Lionel's who still aches for him; and Noé (Grégoire Colin), nursing a crush on Joséphine. Dyads align, shift, break, and regroup among the foursome, jealousy simmering in the film's already-famous cafe scene, during which Noé cuts in on a sweetly dancing Lionel and Joséphine as the Commodores' "Night Shift" plays. Nonsexual filial devotion is immediately supplanted by heat and desire. Father and daughter's comfortable life together will need to end—an inevitability that even Lionel recognizes as necessary, no matter how painful. It's a point that no one needs to shout to make.

 
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