Sunday, December 4, 2011


I'm finishing off my unofficial Claire Denis anthology here at PINNLAND EMPIRE with the film that started it all for me. As I said in "My Dinner With Alice", 'Nenette & Boni' was my gateway in to the world of Claire Denis (and the world of Claire Denis-related films and filmmakers like Leos Carax, Olivier Assayas and Catherine Breillat) back in the summer of '99. I took my time with this write-up because I'm pretty certain that one of the actors from this film (PINNLAND EMPIRE favorite; Alice Houri) will be reading this at some point so i wanna do it justice. At the end of 'U.S. Go Home', Claire Denis' semi-autobiographical tale about 2 young girls trying to act older then they really are, "Martine" (played by Alice Houri) goes off in to the woods with a man almost twice her age (played by Vincent Gallo) and loses her virginity. At the beginning of 'Nenette & Boni', "Nenette" (also played by Houri) is slightly older than the Martine character and is a few months pregnant. 'Nenette & Boni' may not be an "official" sequel to 'U.S. Go Home', but I cant think of too many films in the last 20 years that have the same kinda spiritual connection as those 2 movies. Not only did the 2 films, both directed by Claire Denis, come right after each other (U.S. in '94 and 'Nenette' in '96), but they feature the same primary cast (Gregoire Colin, Alice Houri & Vincent Gallo) and both; Colin & Houri play bickering siblings in both films. Nenette handles her pregnancy in the same way as Martine handles the loss of her virginity. Through out the film there's barely any mention of who got Nenette pregnant. And when the question of who the father is comes up, she brushes it off. In 'U.S. Go Home', after Martine sets out to do what she planned (lose her virginity) she no longer cares about the guy she has sex with, and essentially sends him on his way as if she's done with him (which, when you look at in a certain way, is a powerful twist on the traditional sexual relationship between men & women. And the fact that Martine is SO young makes it even more powerful).

When Claire Denis was asked why she went with the same initial cast for both films she replied:

I had loved those four weeks of filming (U.S. Go Home) with them so much that I wanted more. I wanted to re-film with them.

Colin & Houri as brother & sister
in 'U.S. Go Home'

Colin & Houri as brother & sister
in 'Nenette & Boni'

Vincent Gallo and the
"claire denis glare" in 'U.S. GO Home'

Vincent Gallo and the "claire
denis glare" in 'Nenette & Boni'

'Nenette & Boni' is the perfect combination of the sensuality found in later Denis films like 'Trouble Every Day' & 'Friday Night' mixed with the sweetness of her more recent film '35 Shots Of Rum'. Like most Claire Denis films she conveys this sensuality and sweetness through eye contact, body language and (sometimes) symbolism rather than dialogue (see the 2 clips from 'Nenette & Boni' below which feature no dialogue at all)...
Le Monde de Claire Denis sur une BO des Tindersticks - Nénette et Boni from Stage of the Art .net on Vimeo.

'Nenette & Boni' is the story of 2 siblings who lost touch with each other after the divorce of their parents and death of their mother later on. Boni (the older brother), sided with the mother, while Nenette (the younger sister) stayed with the father. When Nenette finds out she's pregnant, she runs away from home to go and stay with Boni, who's living in their mothers old house that she left him before she died. Boni is reluctant at first, but he eventually gives in and lets Nenette stay. Through out the film Nenette and Boni's father, who is in to some shady/illegal business that Denis never really goes in to, is trying to get his family back together. But at this point, neither sibling wants anything to do with the father.
Boni is a somewhat naive 19 year old who works at a pizza stand. When he isn't spending the day insulting his younger sister and hating his father, he's day dreaming about the curvy voluptuous woman who works at the bakery close to his house. He doesn't show concern about his younger sisters pregnancy at first, but half way in to the film he decides to take on the big brother role and care for his sister (in a tough love kinda way).
Nenette is a detached, almost emotionless pregnant 16 year old. Not only does she smoke while she's pregnant, but seems to have no concern as to who the father is. Nenette's character is quite interesting in that its difficult to care for a detached apathetic teenage character, but Alice Houri was somehow able to pull it off. Something about the blank expressions on her face make you so curious as to what she could be thinking.
By the time 'Nenette & Boni' was made, Claire Denis had found her style/"groove". This started her long lasting relationship with The Tindersticks who would go on to score 5 more of her films after 'Nenette & Boni'.  Just like her previous films before ('U.S. Go Home, 'I Cant Sleep' and 'No Fear, No Die'), the looks of her films were somewhat grainy, gritty and realistic (courtesy of cinematographer Agnes Godard), we see appearances from her regulars like Gregoire Colin and Alex Descas, her intimate up close & personal way of shooting the body and skin, and she plays on the unspoken, hints, facial expressions, eye contact and other mannerisms rather than spell everything out for us (as seen in the videos above).

The only time we actually see Nenette & Boni's mother is through a picture found in Boni's apartment. This is very reminiscent of Lionel's deceased wife in '35 Shots Of Rum'.

Intense looks of love are found more than once in the film (see the other image of Vincent Gallo above). Without needing to say a word, both Boni and The American Baker (played by Vincent Gallo) have their romantic feelings written all over their faces (which are ironically both directed towards the same woman).

And Claire Denis' signature sensual shots of the naked and half naked body (found in her other films like 'Beau Travail' and 'Trouble Every Day') are a recurring thing in the film as well...

What makes 'Nenette & Boni' so great is that its such an awesome starting point for a Claire Denis novice, yet its not a "safe" pick (by "safe" i mean it isn't boring). With independent or "art house" directors, sometimes recommending their best work isn't always the best idea. 'Beau Travail' may be her greatest film (I personally think it is), but for someone just getting in to her, that might turn someone off (as well as 'Trouble Every Day' which I think is a masterpiece). Not only that, but up until the recent DVD releases of 'White Material' and '35 Shots Of Rum', 'Nenette & Boni' is the easiest of her films to come by (I discovered it at a local video store on VHS near my house back in the day).


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