Thursday, November 21, 2013

Cold Water (L’eau Froide)

COLD WATER (L’eau Froide)         A                      
aka:  Tous les garçons et les filles de leur âge...  (All the Boys and Girls In Their Time) – made for TV (Commissioned by French television as one part of a series of nine films entitled Tous les garçons et les filles de leur âge, including other directors:   Patricia Mazuy, Chantal Akerman, André Téchiné, Olivier Dahan, Emilie Deleuze, Claire Denis, Laurence Ferreira Barbosa, and Cédric Kahn.  Released theatrically, however, before it was shown on TV)  France (92 mi)  1994  d:  Olivier Assayas

Janitor of lunacy
Paralyze my infancy
Petrify the empty cradle
Bring hope to them and me

Janitor of tyranny
Testify my vanity
Mortalize my memory
Deceive the devil's deed

Tolerate my jealousy
Recognize the desperate need

Janitor of lunacy
Identify my destiny
Revive the living dream
Forgive their begging scream

Seal the giving of their seed
Disease the breathing grief

—Nico “Janitor of Lunacy,” 1974, written for Brian Jones (1942 – 1969), Nico - Janitor of Lunacy (Peel '74) - YouTube (4:25)

If you ever have a chance to see this film in a theater, don’t pass it up, as it’s likely to be the best film you’ll see all year.  An almost perfect film, arguably the stand-out work in this director’s repertoire, as this film along with Nicholas Ray’s REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955), Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (Les quatre cents coups) (1959), and perhaps André Téchiné’s Wild Reeds (Les Roseaux Sauvages) (1994) from this same commissioned series, may be the most outstanding coming-of-age films to ever probe into misunderstood adolescence, while it’s also one of the greatest 60’s counterculture films, even though it was set it in the early 70’s.  In addition, it features superlative use of handheld cameras by Denis Lenoir, where the fluidity of motion perfectly matches the restless interior states of mind of the lead characters, where what immediately comes to mind is the sustained intensity level throughout, especially in the lead character, 16-year old Christine (17-year old Virginie Ledoyen’s greatest performance), as if the weight of the world is literally flooding through her body and soul at every moment, where her instincts of self-preservation lead to a constant state of rebellion, where befuddled adults have legal control over what to do with her, which includes sending her to a psychiatric hospital against her will because they can’t deal with her.  Assayas beautifully captures the mood, atmosphere, and raw, unpretentious intensity of anxiety-ridden adolescents caught up in their own indecisions, the terrible choices they make, how easy their emotions are sparked and then extinguished, and how eloquently, beyond their own words (blank piece of paper), this film describes their fatalistic viewpoint about their all-too-hopeless future, made as part of the celebrated French TV series, “Tous les garçons et les filles de leur âge” (1994), ALL THE BOYS AND GIRLS IN THEIR TIME, a collaboration of various directors recalling their lives at 16, including Chantal Akerman, Claire Denis, and André Téchiné's Wild Reeds (Les Roseaux Sauvages) (1994), where one rule was they had to include a party sequence, all dealing with dramatized stories set during their adolescence.    

This film is set in the outskirts of Paris in 1972, where the story examines the lives of two defiant 16-year old delinquents from broken homes, Christine and Gilles, played flawlessly by Virginie Ledoyen and Cyprien Fouquet.  Christine has already been sent to the psychiatric asylum, is caught by the police as a partner in a shoplifting crime committed by Gilles, a more comfortable middle class kid with little to no life experience, and is then returned to the asylum by her father, with the consent of her separated Scientologist mother (Dominique Faysse) and Arab boyfriend (Smaïl Mekki), while Gilles is expelled from school and is expected to be shipped off to boarding school by his single father, intelligently played by László Szabó.  These opening set-up sequences show adults straining to understand the seemingly senseless actions and motivations of youth, where ironically the best listener turns out to be a sympathetic police inspector (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), but he is viewed as untrustworthy like all the other authority figures, where these kids are so alienated and lost that they often don’t understand their own thoughts and are afraid to share their innermost secrets with anyone.  This is one of the better films at expressing the vast divide between age groups, where people over thirty are simply not to be trusted, as their actions even when well-meaning are seen as cruel, reflective of their own narrow interests, so it’s quite natural for these kids to rebel against what they perceive to be the source of injustice and such emotional upheaval in their lives.  In fact, the romance between Christine and Gilles is as much the result of a shared opposition to authority as it is a mutual attraction.  This is also one of the few films to include a minority, an Arab boyfriend, as among those overly heavy-handed adults they need to rebel against, which is an interesting twist, considering minorities are usually perceived to be on the receiving end of social injustice.      

Christine escapes and meets Gilles at a country house where a horde of teenagers are convening for a midnight party.  In one of the more enthralling scenes, Gilles travels through an unimaginably beautiful green forest walking his bicycle while spouting (in English) the Allen Ginsburg poetry of his 1966 anti-war poem Wichita Vortex Sutra, taking a winding path through the woods where the quiet solitude is unmistakable until miraculously finding a paved road in a blue mist, which appears like an open portal to another universe, riding and escaping into the mist, while Christine seems on the verge of a mental breakdown and after cutting off some of her hair, attacks another girl with a pair of scissors.  Rarely mentioned as one of the key films of the 90’s as it never had an American release other than festival screenings and has still never appeared on DVD, but can only be seen in retrospectives, it is nonetheless one of the key films of the 90’s, where it climaxes with a memorable riotous all-night party in an abandoned château, which resolves into a 15-minute sequence of American music with no dialogue, just the passing of a bong pipe, a raging bonfire, music and dancing, evoking feelings of liberation, starting with Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee” Assayas - cold water 1994, party scene excerpt  YouTube (29:49, unsubtitled, though the dialogue stops around the 4-minute mark), Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” L'eau froide YouTube (2:01), Leonard Cohen’s “Avalanche” L'eau froide : slow  YouTube (2:10), reaching a rousing crescendo, ascending to unimaginable heights with Creedence Clearwater’s “Comin’ Round the Bend” L'eau froide : feu de joie   YouTube (2:56), so good they have to play it again, interspersed with the piercing scratch of the needle ripping across the phonograph record while abruptly changing songs.  With the kids smashing the windows throwing all the home furniture into the bonfire, it has a feel of storming the Bastille, where revolt and revolution are in the air.  Assayas uses Nico’s “Janitor of Lunacy” L'eau froide : matin blême  YouTube (2:56) as the coming down song, an ode to the Rolling Stone (Brian Jones) that died too young, leaving a foggy aftermath that dreamily hovers over the proceedings like finding yourself lost in a wasteland.  Much like Cassavetes’ landmark 60’s film Faces (1968), Assayas uses closeups to brilliantly capture the expression on the faces of his young characters, using a drifting handheld camera that reveals a stunning intimacy, showing us their isolation as well as their union.  The two escape in the middle of the night to the idea of a better place (freedom) that exists only in Christine’s mind, and on a wintry night, Christine finds herself walking waist deep in an icy cold river that is pushing or pulling her with unrestrained force and whose decibel level is ominous, where one feels she is about to throw herself in, but instead decides to give herself to Gilles that night only to disappear by morning, leaving little trace of where she’s gone, L'Eau Froide - O.Assayas YouTube (4:40).  In this film, much like the ambiguous, existential ending to Five Easy Pieces (1970), there is no definable future, there is only today.  

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