Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun May 10, 2020 8:06 pm 
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Another sui generis hybrid from Benjamin Crotty

In Benjamin Crotty's strange, bold, intermittently entertaining short film, the legendary, quite likely apocryphal soldier of Napoleon Bonaparte, Nicolas Chauvin, farmer-turned-soldier veteran in a torn uniform of the Napoleonic army, blood-spattered, one eye roughly patched, steps up excitedly to give a self-aggrandizing acceptance speech for lifetime achievement, as if for an Oscar or a César, but goes on and on and on, and is still speaking during the closing credits. His manner is partly that of a standup comic (with drum and symbol to underline jokes), or a self-satisfied bore, though he wanders off-stage out into a surreal world, and back, and makes remarks to the camera from time to time. Thibaud Ducret wrote in Film Exposure that Crotty here "combines the formal freedom of the Nouvelle Vague and the absurdity of Monty Python." Something like that.

We are half in the nineteenth century, and two-thirds in the twenty-first: "Nikko" frequently refers to modern-day gadgetry and media, mentioning Wikipedia and saying "Google it!" and openly suspecting the award he's going to receive was manufactured in Taiwan. He says at the outset, "It's not just Eugène Poubelle who left his name to posterity!" referring to the man whose name is synonymous with "garbage" in France. But Poubelle was a real man who gave Paris rubbish bins. Chauvin is only a legend. Here, he is brought to life in a tour de force performance by Alexis Manenti, the actor who later contributed to the writing of last year's Cannes prizewinning film about police brutality in the banlieue, Les Misérables, while also playing the racist white cop Chris, one of the lead characters.

What is chauvinism? We know it well in the age of Donald Trump, who trashes "shithole countries" and throws out international treaties in the name of American national dominance while constantly lowering the reputation of our country. A chauvinist is a super patriot, as Napoleon was a narcissistic empire-builder. In this age of #MeToo, we know also what a male chauvinist is, and there is a kind of macho swagger about Crotty's Chauvin, which seems to appeal to the woman he meets (Caroline Deruas-Garrel). And this film, bizarre as it is more unified than the filmmaker's 2014 feature film Fort Buchanan, is a meandering, improvisational tour of the speaker's life and by implication both past and current European history.

Chauvin takes up his relation with Napoleon, whom tradition said he deeply admired. On the contrary, he says he detested the man. Later he says "Napoleon always fought for himself. I always fought for France." But he and the lady meet a cadaver in a field (Antoine Cholet) in medieval-style armor who comes to life to inform Nikko of the fact that he never existed but is merely a version of the "rustic warrior" dreamed up by "the urban intellectual elite."

Crotty's 2014 feature Fort Buchanan (similarly a film not quite present, past, or future) which debuted at Locarno, had its US premiere at the MoMA/Lincoln Center New Directors/New Films of 2015 (see the my review ). Crotty, who was born in Spokane, Washington and graduated from Yale as an art major, then studied film and video at Fresnoy–Studio National in northern France, lives and works in Paris and has become a French citizen, like longtime American expatriate Eugène Green. In a Frieze magazine 2016 "Influences" portfolio Crotty sheds some life on his personality his commentary. In filmed interviews (in English) he tends to laugh a lot.

But Crotty remains, to me, an enigmatic figure, not least for his decision to have disappeared into French cinema and a sort of French identity. Perhaps he felt he had found a niche there for his idiosyncratic filmmaking style, as Green as done.

The Glorious Acceptance Speech of Nicolas Chauvin/Le discours d'acceptation glorieux de Nicolas Chauvin, 26 mins., debuted at Locarno where it won the Signs of Life section It was a selection of the 2018 NYFF and winner of Mantarraya Award. Screened for this review as part of the Kino Lorber Marquee offering, "New French Shorts," May 2020. You can watch this film on via Facebook and click on "settings" for English subtitles.

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