I've written myself in to a bit of a paradox here at PINNLAND EMPIRE. Because I put the work of Claire Denis on a pedestal and sometimes even drop her name in reviews that have nothing to do with her or her work, people probably think I just blindly praise anything she does without putting any thought in to (and I don't make things any easier for myself by praising her work on social media in the fanboy-ish way that I sometimes do). But I assure you that isn't the case. Claire Denis is my favorite filmmaker for a reason. She deals with issues like race, intimacy, manhood and so much more unlike any other filmmaker working today. She also has yet to make a bad a movie (in my eyes) and her latest short; Voila L'enchainement continues her streak (and if you actually read certain reviews I've done on her work in the past, you'll see that I've criticized a few things that she's done from time to time).
In this minimalist half hour short (that borders on an experimentation), Denis chronicles the relationship of a nameless middle aged mixed race couple, played by Alex Descas & Norah Krief. I make note of the couple's race because Denis focuses on that quite a bit in the beginning. Some of the dialogue at the start of the film touches on issues like slavery and the sometimes fetishized attraction that white women have towards black men (and vice versa). There's a scene in the film when the couple gets in to a non-physical argument in the privacy of their home (like most couples sometimes do) and one of the neighbors calls the police. This to me was clearly Denis asking the question; if the man in the relationship were white instead of black, would the police have been called?
It's no mystery that racial tension & interracial relationships are a staple in Denis' work. But Voila L'enchainement is the first film since Denis' early 90's period (No Fear No Die & I Can't Sleep) that touches on the relationships between black men & white women in such an obvious way.
I'm always skeptical about Denis tackling race in a super obvious way. Almost everyone does that. No filmmaker has her subtle approach towards race & racial tension which is what sets her apart from everyone else. But she pulls it off quite well here. This short film brought back old TIFF memories of watching The Invader (2011)- another interracial relationship film from Europe. The major difference is that The Invader straddled the line between intriguing & offensive while Voila L'enchainement is much more mature. I'd even go so far as to say that you have to be in your very late 20's and have a certain amount of relationship experience to even fully understand Claire Denis' latest film.
|I Can't Sleep|
Voila L'enchainement is about more than just an interracial romance. It's a relationship story. At the start of the film we see the couple happily in love, and by the end of the story they're entangled in a biter separation that involves intense therapy, police, jail & strict visitation rights for one of them. From the start we notice little cracks like their lack of communication; the lack of excitement (on one side) upon finding out they're going to be parents; and they're different emotional levels.
My initial thoughts right after I saw this was that Denis painted the female in this relationship as emotionally unstable & immature. Naturally this made me scratch my head because I found it odd that a female filmmaker would portray a female character in such an unfair way. But now that I've sat on this for a day, I've come to realize that neither partner is "better" than the other.
This might be the best modern relationship film I've seen since Blue Valentine or Ozon' 5x2. Voila L'Enchainement is a little strange so it may be difficult to compare it to more traditional movies. There are only two actors in the whole movie and it's shot in an empty performance space with no props. In terms of approach, imagine Tom Noonan's What Happened Was mixed with Von Trier's stripped down style in Dogville & Manderlay (Claire once again re-teamed with her regular cinematographer Agnes Godard).
I wouldn't count on finding too many reviews on this or even seeing it outside of a special screening. Claire Denis' shorts tend to fall in to obscurity and eventually find their way on YouTube many years later. Voila L'Enchainement was so enjoyable that it made sitting through the other so-so/subpar/not very good shorts that played alongside it at TIFF worth it. I really liked White Material & Bastards but not since 35 Shots Of Rum have I been so moved by one of her movies.