Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 10, 2020 6:35 pm 
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Turned on, between worlds

A dead young man moves through casting director Stéphane Batut's quietly haunting second feature. His name is Juste. The actor, Timothée Robert, is a funny kind of dead man - a tall, strapping guy, with a face like a choir boy and close-cropped hair. He can help others to "pass over," but can't himself. In the anti-chamber he can't tell a story about himself, which is one of the keys. Years later, here he is again, wandering Paris, living in a wild squat. By chance he runs into a redhead, Agathe (Judith Chemla), who thinks she recognizes him. He follows her around, and they have a night of lovemaking.

She did know him, years before. She's older, he's not.

All the film hovers between life and death, but toward the end. Juste has become invisible to everybody, even Agathe, though he cah blow and move her hair, and caress her. She is, or was, his first and only love, and he is reluctant to leave her, and she likewise, it turns out. Juste comes into contact with other spirits floating in and out of the corporeal. He can help them pass over. One man jumps into a cab and urges him to do so, just to get away from where they are. One remembers Juste's innocent face, sad but eager, sometimes seen in almost extreme closeups; he also gets some full frontal nudes. And when he has to run out, once, he throws on a woman's blouse that's too small for him. Does it give him corporeality? Much of the time of the film he wears a flimsy sparkly black jacket somebody calls "kitsch." Is it what give him the quality of the title, vif-argent (quicksilver)? Or does that just refer to the between-worlds uncertainty of Juste's existence?

Surging music accompanies a memorable scene on a bridge rimmed with lines of blue light.

All this is delicate and beautiful, but I have no idea what it means, and I'm not sure it makes logical sense. Cahier du Cinéma's critic wrote, "If this effort has charm, it is however harmed by the limitations of writing that's confused and rough." But it has its own kind or romantic mood and its lead actor's sweet, confident presence.

Speaking of strange apparitions, due to coronavirus restrictions on French travel, Stéphane Batut is the only director of the 2020 Rendez-Vous film so far to appear for a Q&A after a screening, only briefly, but corporeal, a long-faced, cherubic man with soft brown eyes and a beard. It was hard coming, he said, because he was in China (China!), and he had to get here by boat (by boat?). Why did nobody ask about this? But the Lincoln Center person spirited him away, it was time for the next movie, about unruly schoolchildren in the Saint-Denis part of Paris.

Burning Ghost/Vif-argent, 103 mins., debuted in the ACID program at Cannes devoted to promoting independent films. It won the Jean Vigo award and was nominated for the Prix Louis Delluc. Timothee Robert, who has an arresting presence, was nominated for the Lumiere Award for Most Promising Actor (Meilleure révélation masculine). French theatrical release was Aug. 28, 2019, and the AlloCine press rating was 3.5 (70%) based on 21 reviews.

Rendez-Vous with French Cinema
Tuesday, March 10, 1:45pm
Friday, March 13, 6:30pm (Q&A with Stéphane Batut)


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