Thursday 12 July 2018

On Blu-ray - David Hare is thrilled by UN BEAU SOLEIL INTERIEUR (Claire Denis, France)

Juliet Binoche, Un Beau Soleil Intérieur 
The loves of a woman is no more and no less than the subject of Claire Denis' wonderful new film, with the astonishing participation of Juliette Binoche, Un Beau Soleil Intérieur which has just been released in a very fine English friendly Blu-ray by Curzon Artificial Eye in the UK. The movie debuted in English language territories in July last year at the sister Festivals of NZ and Melbourne, and has since enjoyed only limited commercial runs in Europe and the USA. 
Xavier Beauvois, Un Beau Soleil Intérieur 
My only quibble with the new Blu-ray is the appallingly misconceived faux-hip translation of the original French title which should read something like, “A glorious inner sun” to something as hideously banal as the Gerome Ragni-esque homage, “Let the Sunshine In”. 
Nicolas Duvauchelle.
The film has its beginnings in a 1977 text by Claire’s old chum the late Roland Barthes, "Fragments d’un discourse amoureux". Or as Claire would have it, as she does in a disarmingly sweet 30 minute interview to camera on the new disc, 34 Fragments, in effect a sister film to her earlier movie 35 Rhums (35 Shots of Rum, 2008). 

Alex Descas and Valerie Bruno Tedeschi
In both this and that film, a woman languishes, albeit in considerable sensual pleasure and genial ambivalence, with one of Claire’s most present and sustaining male actors, Alex Descas coming late to the picture, as a potentially redeeming figure to the woman and her currently unfulfilled desire for both sex and affection. 
Juliet Binoche
Claire is very much not a director for gender studies devotees, nor indeed much of modern so called western “feminism”. I imagine her effigy being ritually burnt in Gender studies classes the world over for her “sins”. Like several previous essays in transgression, ranging from a serial transvestite granny killer (J’ai pas Sommeil, 1994), to Cannibal Vampires (Trouble Every Day, 2001, admittedly with the odious Vincent Gallo playing lead Vampire, along with the sublime Beatrice Dalle), to lovable but incestuous fathers (Les Salauds, 2013). 
Juliet Binoche, Un Beau Soleil Intérieur 
Such transgressions are redundant in the new film, with a handpicked cast of men whose characters, bar one, are obnoxious almost beyond belief. Her growth as an artist and human being, which already to me seemed complete long ago now reaches the highest levels of artistry by engaging effortlessly with such charmless arseholes through delirious lightly played comedy, rooted in very harsh and very real anguish. 
Bruno Podaldydes.
Thus her current affair and fuck buddy (played by the exceptional director, Xavier Beauvois as a fat, smug self-obsessed status prick who orders “gluten free olives” with glasses of high end Scotch at a bar), is a man whom she confesses to enjoy fucking with because she can always have an orgasm the moment she re-imagines him as the vulgar little shit he actually is. Her possibly even more vile ex-husband Francois, played by Lawrence Grevill, has two brief appearances, only one more than their daughter who also seems completely superfluous to Isabelle’s life in the here and now. 
Gerard Depardieu, Un Beau Soleil Intérieur 
The movie musically glides its way through a gorgeous funk jazz score from the Julian Siegel Quartet through to Etta James’ "At Last". The latter song signals the movie’s epiphany, (if it indeed needed one), just as the Commodores did in Claire’s fabulous 35 Rhums a decade ago, and once again, with perhaps her favorite male actor, Alex Descas. 
Which leads me back to one of her favorite female actors, the unassailably beautiful and moving and flawless and real Juliette Binoche who takes us on this glorious, exhilarating ride into Claire’s life. If one of the perfect subjects of cinema is photographing a woman’s face, Claire surely shares this noble conceit with masters like Sternberg, Ozu, Mizoguchi and Ophuls. One might cede some evidence of ups and downs in the rides Claire has taken with some of her pictures over the last 15 years, notably Les Salauds (2013), L’intros (2004) and particularly White Material (2009) which I feel is burdened by an overly self-conscious performance from Isabelle Huppert and too schematic a screenplay. But the director’s irrepressible impulse to pleasure and pain, and to sheer joy, and the intoxication of her form and image are overwhelming. 
Claire Denis
Un Beau Soleil Interieur is Claire Denis at top form, and she’s back with soul mate, DP Agnes Godard, here shooting on digital Sony F65 cameras with a range of 70mm Panavision primes, most of them very short focal length to give the close and two shots which make up 80% of the movie a blissfully classical feel with the clear supremacy of the face over every other item of the shot and the lighting. 
Claire Denis is a master of cinema. She has been since Beau Travail in 1999, and I hope she keeps making movies for as long as she draws breath.

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