Friday, May 6, 2011


'No Fear, No Die' and 'U.S. Go Home' (which i actually had seen before, but had been dying to see again for years) are the only 2 films of Denis' that aren't available on DVD, probably due to a music rights issue. The soundtrack to 'U.S. Go Home', featuring everyone from ska artist Prince Buster to Nico and The Rolling Stones, is one of the most memorable things about the film, along with Vincent Gallo's show stealing appearance at the end as well as Gregoire Colin's dance scene, which almost feels like an homage to Chris Parker's dance in Jim Jarmusch's 'Permanent Vacation' (Denis worked as an assistant director to Jarmusch in the 80's). In 'U.S. Go Home', two teenage girls; Martine (Alice Houri) & Marlene (Jessica Tharaud) plan to lose their virginity at a party, but need Martine's older brother Alain (Gregoire Colin) to take them, or else their parents wont let them go. Naturally he's defiant at first but he eventually comes around. When they finally get to the party Martine has an uncomfortable encounter with an older man who tries to have sex with her. This causes her to ditch the party, leaving her brother and Marlene behind who eventually have an awkward sexual experience with each other later on. After Martine leaves the party she's picked up by an American soldier (played by Vincent Gallo). Once again Gallo plays "himself" like he does in any other movie. But its so hilarious because he comes off SO American, especially when surrounded by a bunch of Parisians. He's awful at the pronunciation of french names (he pronounces 'Alain' as "ALLEN" in that overly American sounding buffalo new york accent of his) and the scene where he offers Martine and her brother coca cola is clearly some kind of a metaphor for Gallo's "American-ness". Eventually, Martine and the Soldier go off in to the woods and its clearly implied that they have sex. As a huge fan of  Denis, i really loved the last 10 minutes or so of 'U.S. Go Home' (which includes the scene where Martine and the soldier go off in to the woods). In 1994, Denis was still a fairly new director, and hadn't completely developed her unique style that we're familiar with today. One of Denis' strengths as a director is her ability to quickly or casually hint at things, which is what the last 10 minutes of 'U.S. Go Home' does. At the end of the film, in a scene which is very similar to a scene in '35 Shots of Rum', we see the 3 teenagers silently waiting for the bus, not speaking to one another, yet so many things are made obvious. The scene leaves us wondering what the relationship will be like between Martine and her brother, as well as the relationship with her friend Marlene, now that she's had sex with Alain. And in another scene where the soldier and Martine are about to part ways, probably never to see each other again, their body language and the way they look at each other says so much. Even though this coming-of-age teenage tale is almost like an "anti-john hughes" film, you can still enjoy 'U.S. Go Home' whether or not you're a fan of stuff like 'the breakfast club' or 'pretty in pink'. At the end of the day, they all deal with the same issues: The awkwardness of growing up, losing your virginity, having a crush on someone, etc. Denis just approaches those issues slightly differently.
'U.S. Go Home' was part of a french tv series called; 'Tous les garçons et les filles de leur âge', in which various directors (including Olivier Assayas and Chantal Ackerman) had to make a semi-autobiographical film about their teenager years. The one stipulation that all the directors had to follow was that each film had to have a party scene. On a side note, Denis and Olivier Assayas went on to collaborate on the idea of what would eventually become 'Irma Vep'. I can only imagine how great the other films in this series came out, especially from the likes of Ackerman and Assayas.
Anyone who likes Denis' other movies will love this. I guarantee it. It features 2 of her most commonly used actors (Colin and Houri). Any film that features Alice Houri, an actress that i constantly bug on facebook (and she actually responds to my comments) is always a plus for me. Plus Colin and Houri playing brother & sister felt like a prequel to what's considered one of Denis's most popular films; 'Nenette & Boni' (the film that followed 'U.S. Go Home', which co-stars Vincent Gallo as well), in which Alice Houri plays a pregnant teenager who runs away to live with her estranged older brother, played by Colin. With all the attention Denis is getting these days (she's considered to be one of the best directors working right now), i really hope someone like criterion can get the music rights for this film taken care of so it can see a proper dvd release.

George Colin in one of the most memorable scenes of 'U.S. Go Home', which felt very similar to Jim Jarmusch's 'Permanent Vacation'. Also, the way Colin lets himself go is also very reminiscent of the scene in 'Nenette and Boni' where he imagines himself having sex with Vincent Gallo's wife...

Dancing scene from 'Permanent Vacation'

Switching to a more serious tone, Denis' 2nd film, which i also believe has been held up and rarely shown these days due to music rights issues as well, deals with another trademark of hers: The exploration of black people (often from Africa) living in France, which she continued to focus on in 'I cant Sleep' and '35 Shots of Rum'. Alex Descas and Isaach De Bankole (who are essentially her "Deniro & Keitel") play 2 immigrant cock fighters; "Jocelyn" (Descas) & "Doh" (Debankole) from the Caribbean and Africa, respectively. Jocelyn's talent lies in the training of the roosters, while Doh is more business savvy and is better at setting up matches and handling money. Things slowly get out of hand when a love triangle develops between the wife of the head of the cock fighting ring, his son and Jocelyn, who in particular seems to be falling in to a deep depression due to how much in love he is with the bosses wife. In fact, of all the roosters he trains, there's one white rooster in particular that he takes extra special care of and pays more attention too, who is clearly meant to represent the bosses wife that he knows he can never have. Denis' first 3 films all share a connection with one another. In her first film; 'Chocolat', we see an African (played by Issach Debankole) living in Cameroon in the final days of colonialism. Her next film; 'No Fear, No Die', we see 2 immigrants, one of which is played by Debankole again, who appear to be "fresh off the boat", and adjusting to life in France, and in her third film, we see an African family (made up of mostly immigrant) who appear to have been settled in France for a few years.
Alex Descas gives not only one of the top 3 performances in a Claire Denis film (the other 2 being; Denis Lavant in 'Beau Travail' and Michel Subor in 'The Intruder'),  but he gives the best performance of his career. He's almost always reserved, calm and laid back in just about anything he's ever acted in, but not so much in this. Sometimes i feel like Claire Denis and Olivier Assayas are the only 2 directors that recognize his talent. His performance in the last half of 'No Fear, No Die' alone is worth watching the movie. Whats sucks is that this film is so rarely shown or talked about in this country, that i don't really have much to back up what I'm saying. There's not even a clip of the film on youtube. Although if it means anything, Descas was nominated for a Cesar award.
The cock fighting scenes may be hard to stomach for some, especially if you're an animal lover. The end of the film features a fight between 2 roosters with razors tied to their feet. But according to the text that comes up just before the ending credits, "no animals were harmed during the making of the film". I find this a little hard to believe, because it looked so real. Along with the theme of immigrants living in France, Denis continues to explore interracial relationships. I'm sure anyone who's a fan of Denis knows that in any of her films where Alex Descas has a major role, he's always paired with a white wife, girlfriend or love interest (35 shots of rum, trouble every day, i cant sleep and no fear no die). Even the few films that don't feature Alex Descas still show some kind of black/white relationship. In 'beau travail' denis lavant has an African girlfriend. In 'white material', its heavily hinted that Isabelle Hupert's character has had an affair with one of the local government officials. However, instead of showing how "taboo" it is for a black man to be with a white woman, or making the interracial relationship the "issue" of the film, she presents the relationships the same way that Fasbinder presented homosexuality in his films, which is essentially showing homosexuality (or in Denis' case, interracial romance) in the same light as a "straight" relationship between a (white) man and (white) a woman.

Descas & Beatrice Dalle in 'I Cant Sleep'

 Descas and Dalle (again) in 'Trouble Every Day'

Richard Courcet in 'I Cant Sleep'

Gregoire Colin and Mati Diop (who plays Alex Descas' daughter from an interracial relationship) in '35 Shots of Rum'


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