I have always been fascinated with Brisseau’s work, aired intermittently on the SBS World Movies channel over the years. The Exterminating Angels (2006), (not to be confused with the ingenious film The Exterminating Angelof Buñuel; a film that intoxicates me even as I think of it), À l'aventure (2008), (not to be confused with Antonioni’s L'avventura - another engrossing work), and Secret Things (2002) were the films of Brisseau that I had seen a number of times that have left me with a feeling of intemperance.
As a collection, these films offer a different take on the female psyche to Eric Rohmer’s and explore the indelible imprint that sexuality, desire and their absence have on a woman’s outlook in life, how it affects their relationships with men, other women and also with themselves.
Noce blanche is such a film; featuring a very young Vanessa Paradis (as Mathilde Tessier) in her first feature film role. Fragile, brilliant, fiercely strong-willed; her seduction of her professor (wonderfully played by Bruno Cremer) was predestined - what had cast their fateful destiny was that she seduced him not only with her body and beauty, but with her mind, with her sharp intellect and her world view.
|Vanessa Paradis, Noce Blanche|
A sacrosanct but unavoidable relationship that ensued could only cut the path for total destruction, without regard for consequence or morality. There is nothing perverse about this relationship, although in the politically correct world we live in, some may see this as a corruption of sorts - but love, desire, politics, thought - aren’t these the things which conscious beings should explore? Who can deny that or be denied of these things?
Paradis’ self-possession is a rare thing. She didn’t just act that role, but I felt that she lived it. There was a fullness in her grasp of consciousness, of her being in the world (in the Heideggerian sense) and a will or courage to project into this selfhood that is so very translatable on screen. Brisseau must have been happy when he saw the results. I wondered why our schools don’t teach Descartes, Bergson, Freud or Weil in our Year 11 curricula - our children (mine included) would have benefited from this kind of education when on the cusp of adulthood.
|Vanessa Paradis, Bruno Cremer, Noce blanche|
I especially liked the scene when the class was treated to Rohmer’s Le rayon vert (1986) - I thought it an especially poignant homage. Rohmer had brought Brisseau into the profession back in the late 70s; they had much in common, both were a one-time school teacher/part-time filmmaker. After seeing Emmanuel Mouret’s Love Affair/s at the French Film Festival, I have a feeling that the philosopher in his film-within-film documentary, played by a silver-haired Claude Pommereau bore a striking resemblance to Brisseau, and it may indeed be Mouret’s tribute to this great marginalised filmmaker who passed away in 2019.
Whilst the story itself doesn’t seem like much - the relationship between a professor and his student - a genre that has been explored in many different films, in many different settings; Brisseau’s delivery of this narrative is a revelation. How can Mathilde transcend their decisive relationship, just like she has had to transcend her past? You’ll have to see the film to find out.
From the opening scenes of a murder, Brisseau’s A Brutal Game introduces us to an unsympathetic and rigid character; Bruno Cremer’s scientist, father cum child murderer is as reckless and cruel as he is strict and meticulous; but through Brisseau’s lens, he still somehow earns our pity. Charmless, he is well matched by his disabled but headstrong daughter, whom he sought to rein in by taking her out of school and into his country home in Montpellier. The sun is a little too bright there, offering little shelter to father and daughter. In high summer where the shadows are reduced to where you are standing means that there is nowhere to hide, your secrets can only remain exposed, scrutinized. That is what Brisseau wants us to do; and with that, we are drawn into the struggles of this impetuous young girl and her struggles with life.
|Emanuelle Debever, Bruno Cremer, A Brutal Game|
Cremer’s Christian is a man who has lost his bearings in life, with his lifetime scientific research destroyed by a bunch of children on a whim, if there were ever a moral compass, it had been caught in that same fiery maelstrom in which his work and soul were consumed.
Interestingly Cremer’s character has the same surname, Tessier, as Mathilde’s in Noce blanche. The connection (although Noce blanche came afterwards), is fantastically interesting: the etymology of the word is from an old French word ‘tissier’ or late Latin derivative of ‘texere’ meaning 'to weave'; literally, the cross-stitching of ‘character’ as in ‘temperament’ or ‘disposition’ across his films unifies Brisseau’s oeuvre. Note also that this is the first partnership between Cremer and Brisseau.
This film also introduces María Luisa García (you may recall her as Anne’s friend in Rohmer’s The Aviator's Wife) in the role of Brisseau’s editor and doubling up on-screen as Isabelle’s tutor. Her behind the scenes collaboration with Brisseau would continue following this film until his last. She was credited as Lisa Heredia in this film.
So, we haphazardly follow Isabelle (Emmanuelle Debever) in her little games, at times childish at times cruel; she is but a teenager still finding her way. Her stoic countenance and sharp intellect makes her an uncanny sister to Paradis’ Mathilde. There is much to like about a film disguised as a story about a serial killer, but is really about finding one’s way in the world.
|A moment of transcendance, A Brutal Game|
Brisseau’s epigraph from Dostoevsky’s “Brothers Karamazov”at the beginning of his film tells us just this:“Listen! I took the case of children only to make my case clearer. Of the other tears of humanity with which the earth is soaked from its crust to its centre, I will say nothing. I have narrowed my subject on purpose.”
To finish the quote: “I am a bug, and I recognise in all humility that I cannot understand why the world is arranged as it is. Men are themselves to blame, I suppose; they were given paradise, they wanted freedom, and stole fire from heaven, though they knew they would become unhappy, so there is no need to pity them. With my pitiful, earthly, Euclidian understanding, all I know is that there is suffering and that there are none guilty; that cause follows effect, simply and directly; that everything flows and finds its level—but that's only Euclidian nonsense, I know that, and I can't consent to live by it! What comfort is it to me that there are none guilty and that cause follows effect simply and directly, and that I know it?—I must have justice, or I will destroy myself.”
Both films are currently available to watch on