There’s a particular Parisian tradition that seems peculiar to French aesthetics involving a certain license to behave like a depraved lunatic and receive approval, endorsement, and other cultural rewards in return for this boorishness.(Many years back I tried writing about this subject, in a long review of My Life and Times with Antonin Artaud.) I suppose one very bourgeois way of describing this tendency would be to call it the aesthetics of self-indulgence combined with a gift for self-promotion, and though I don’t know French literature well enough to determine what poets might have established this trend (apart from such relatively modern figures as Baudelaire and Rimbaud), there’s no question that Jean Cocteau set down many of the terms and conditions of this tradition in cinema, along with the visiting Spaniards Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali — including, perhaps, a special talent for hustling up various forms of patronage.
Even though not all artists with these characteristics are French, much less Parisian, it could perhaps be argued that those who are commonly celebrated for these traits are typically appreciated either by French critics (Nicole Brenez writing about Abel Ferrara) or Francophile critics (such as Adrian Martin writing about Philippe Grandrieux, among many others).… Read more »
For me the most interesting “ten best” list included in the January-February 2009 issue of Film Comment is the dozen titles offered by my favorite Japanese film critic, Shigehiko Hasumi. And what’s especially interesting about his list is the inclusion of Leos Carax’s Merde – the middle episode in the three-part feature Tokyo! (2008), flanked by contributions from Michel Gondry and Joon-ho Bong. Decidedly over-the-top in both theme and style as well as execution, and starring former circus acrobat Denis Lavant, who also plays the lead role in Carax’s first three features — an actor who’s surely even more important to this filmmaker’s work than Jean-Pierre Léaud was to the early features of Truffaut — Merde is a provocation and something of an anomaly, even for someone as eclectic as Carax. (It’s also his first film of any length since his 1999 Pola X, his only major film without Lavant.)
Clearly inspired, at least in its opening stretches, by Jean-Louis Barrault in Jean Renoir’s odd Jekyll-and-Hyde adaptation, Le Testament du docteur Cordelier (1961) [see below], Lavant plays a monster who emerges from the Tokyo sewers to wreak random and violent havoc on Tokyo pedestrians until he gets brought to trial, where he gets defended by an equally strident French lawyer (Jean-François Balmer, in a performance that’s almost as extravagant as Lavant’s).… Read more »