Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Sat Nov 13, 2004 2:44 am 
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Cast includes Michael Lonsdale, Mohamed Rouabhi, Laurent Lucas, Olivier Gourmet, Axel Bogousslavsky, Aurore Clément

A passionate meditation on hospitality, death, injustice

This complex, obsessive, profound and rather avant-gardist film (several couples left the cinema as I watched it in Paris at the MK2 Beaubourg) alternates between two narratives. The first of them is the emblematic story of Ismaël (Mohamed Rouabhi), an Algerian in mortal danger at home who attempts to enter France illegally in a truckload of paying border-crossers, a story narrated in voiceover only, without dialogue, through the words of Ismaël's letters to his daughter ("ma chère princesse…"), which turn into an accounting of his travails in terms of the biblical legend of Jonah and the whale. The "whale" comes to be the Air France plane that takes Ismaël and other attempted refugees back to Algeria, but more intentionally by the director the whale is any cargo truck that carries clandestine refugees from a poor country into a rich one. Hence the opening "overture" showing "virgin" trucks being slowly produced on an assembly line, emerging "innocent" from the pristine factory but destined to be carriers of suffering individuals doomed never to escape.

The second, alternating narrative strain is the more detailed, complex, and dramatically intimate story of a funeral gathering for the younger son of a well-to-do French farming family whose aging patriarch, Serge (played by Michael Lonsdale) takes ill, or perhaps simply prepares to die himself, or loses the will to continue living, once the funeral gathering is well under way. This story itself alternates scenes involving individual members of the family who come together in the country for the funeral with another related but separate sequence of scenes in which a serene old priest coaches a troubled curé who is to officiate at the funeral.

Once one's aware of these various strains it becomes clear that Adieu is a long, intentionally solemn and disturbing meditation on death, the existence of God, the existence of evil in the world (whereupon even insect behavior -- a very relevant consideration -- is brought into the discussion), and (an especially pressing manifestation of that evil) the international class system by which certain people are non-persons and certain countries are de facto judged as inferior for arbitrary economic reasons. One of the central issues is hospitality, which des Pallières obviously doesn't think rich countries have to offer in its true form: asking nothing of the stranger who arrives and making him welcome.

In presenting all this des Pallières relies on presenting processes and rituals in detail and at length -- including the factory assembling the truck in the overture; the funeral; the digging of a hole to bury a dead pig by a farmer, and so on. Eventually it may be des Pallières' intention to make us see everything as both process and ritual. These rituals become meditations on the problematic nature of all being in the world. The director also relies on a sound collaboration with composer Martin Wheeler that involves the use of background noise and music which at times, from the very beginning, assume a menacing crescendo-diminuendo quality and are as independent of the action seen on the screen as the two stories of Ismael and the funeral are independent of each other. We're left to work out the interrelations for ourselves.

"A sumptuous, organic, symphonic film," a commentator for the Clermont-Ferrand film festival wrote. Adieu's elegance and emotional effect owe something not only to the eloquent texts of conversation and voiceover and the solemn, almost epic movement but to a strong cast that besides the veteran Lonsdale includes Olivier Gourmet, Laurent Lucas, and Aurore Clément. Its use of alienation effects does not keep it from being involving because of the sheer humanity and intensity of the subject matter.

Adieu is an extremely interesting, deeply passionate and obsessive film, but also an austere one whose slow movement and fragmented construction are bound to alienate and strain the patience of many viewers. It has had a warm reception by French critics, who mention Bresson and Godard, but a less enthusiastic one by some members of the audience, who accuse it of being insipid, a bluff, and, inevitably, pretentious.

The film is distributed in France by ACID, "L'Agence du Cinéma Indépendent pour Sa Diffusion," an organization committed to enabling truly independent filmmaking to find a larger audience. Review in Les Inrockuptibles by Ostra Vincent.

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ARNAUD DES PALLIÈRES

Screened for this review at MK2 Beaubourg, Paris. Theatrical release 8 Sept. 2004 (AlloCiné press rating 3.9); debuted at Locarno Aug. 2003. Run time: 124 mins. This review is also on Filmleaf.

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©Chris Knipp 2004


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