’35 Shots of Rum’ is buzzworthy worldwide
“35 Shots of Rum” was shown Wednesday night at the Isenberg School of Management as part of the 17th annual Massachusetts Multicultural Film Festival, “Cinematic Cities.” It was introduced by UMass professor Patrick Mensah of the French and Francophone studies department.
“35 Shots of Rum” is a lovely, emotive film from French director Claire Denis, capturing the close but deteriorating relationship between quiet widower Lionel (Alex Descas) and his daughter, Josephine (Mati Diop).
The movie opens with Lionel, the silent, beautiful protagonist, staring sad-eyed out the window of the metro on the way home to his equally beautiful and sad-eyed daughter. Lionel and Josephine live in a high-rise apartment complex on the outskirts of Paris. Lionel works as a metro driver and Josephine is a university student who works part-time at a video store. Lionel spends his nights drinking rum with coworkers at the metro – he is renowned for his ability to hold his liquor and claims to be able to hold 35 shots of rum, a feat he will perform only for a specific, unmentioned occasion. Josephine and her classmates spend their days discussing social revolt and the works of Frantz Fanon and Joseph Stiglitz.
Completing the little family are their neighbors Gabrielle (Nicole Dogue), a chain-smoking taxi cab driver, and Noe (Gregoire Colin), a handsome French slob who lives alone with his cat and his dead parents’ furniture.
“35 Shots of Rum” is less a piece of cinematic entertainment and more like moving art – sad, beautiful people gaze at each other in longing and love against the gritty background of the Parisian cityscape. Each is tied to the apartment by some personal tragedy – the loss of Josephine’s mother, the death of Noe’s parents, the unmentioned but palpable pain in Gabrielle’s eyes. Gabrielle loves Lionel and Noe pines for Josephine, but neither is able to act on their feelings or to penetrate the closeness between Josephine and Lionel. The bond between father and daughter is the heart of the movie – the closeness that enabled them to survive the loss of Josephine’s mother now keeps them trapped together in the apartment. One of the more poignant scenes in the film shows Josephine caring for Lionel after a night of heavy drinking. He takes her hands in his and says “just know that you are free.” Josephine brushes him off, insisting that she is happy with him. The bittersweet separation of parent from child is the core drama of the film.
The film is punctuated with odd moments of humor that surprised the audience into laughter. A well-placed fart from Lionel works both on a comedic level and to convey the film’s realism. The death of Noe’s cat is used as the catalyst for action in the film. After finding the cat dead on his living room floor, Noe tosses it in a trash-bag with its favorite squeaky toy and announces that it’s time to move. There is no reason to stay anymore, he explains, “now that the cat is dead.” Noe’s announcement shocks the family out of their insular relationships, forcing Josephine to admit her discontent in her relationship with her father.
The film is ultimately a quiet, artistic rendering of the bond within families, and the bittersweet goodbye between a parent and child. The film is quiet, but not dull. If certain audience members were snoring halfway through, it’s probably safe to assume it was the demands of college life, and not the quality of the film, that prompted their narcolepsy.
Rachel Dougherty can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.