If a Claire Denis film falls in a forest …

I had a very bizarre film viewing experience the other day. Reading no review, seeing no ad, having no sense of it other than the title, I plopped myself down in a local theatre for the Claire Denis film, 35 SHOTS OF RUM. “I’m a huge Claire Denis fan,” I thought. (NENETTE AND BONI, I CAN’T SLEEP, TROUBLE EVERY DAY amongst my favorites.) Why research?

It’s an interesting experiment, to see a film absolutely cold. And, to make things even more pure, here in Appalachian Ohio on a Saturday night at 8:45, I was the only one in the theatre. Was this film even happening? If I had not have found my way to the theatre, would they still have shown the movie? Would it still have been … what we understand to be … a film?

Well, it certainly was a film for me. But not the film the rest of the critical world had seen. Through much of the story, I was in a mild confused state. A father lives with his daughter. They have built a family of sorts with neighbors in their Paris apartment building. The daughter and the ‘son’ neighbor have a strong sexual attraction. The father is in a relationship with another neighbor, the ‘mother’ figure. But there seemed to be a vague anxiety at work – or I was looking for one – evidenced by long shots of the father, Lionel, looking at his daughter with consternation and diffused worry. What was the problem here? I couldn’t figure it out.

Now I don’t mind a little vague anxiety. In fact, I like it. ‘What’s going on?’ is never usually a problem for me. But I typically receive more clues than were coming at me in 35 SHOTS. A series of interactions revealed the everyday, plus one tragedy, plus one argument, plus one accident. The sum? More vague anxiety. Lionel and his daughter have an affectionate relationship, but I would say too affectionate. There was an unsettling sexuality running under everything.

After I got home, by reading, I found out that Lionel (by observing a friend who retires) is beginning to notice and fear his age. And that the film is all about functional family relationships! I would bet that many viewers, sans the prompt of marketing copy, or even just word of mouth, would have had my same experience. I think the power of a simple ‘what is it about?’ between friends is overwhelming, almost unconscious in our viewing experience — and the ‘cold view’ extremely rare, extremely different.

View the trailer here: