Friday October 24, 1997
"Nenette and Boni" is another understated triumph for gifted French writer-director Claire Denis. It is an exquisitely evoked expression of an aching longing for love and family set in working-class Marseilles.
Denis has immense, steadfast respect for seemingly ordinary people and their lives. Her films have a quality of gravity--yet are often hilarious. They also have an intimacy and flow that seem spontaneous and at the same time precisely right.
Gregoire Colin's Boni is a tall, sturdy 19-year-old pizza worker given to pouring out his sexual fantasies (involving the neighborhood baker's wife, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi) in his journal. She is a ravishing earth mother incarnate, radiating health and happiness, as voluptuous as the pastries her devoted, hard-working American husband (Vincent Gallo) makes. In contrast to Boni and his sister Nenette (Alice Houri), the bakery couple, who have several children, live in rare contentment.
Except for his loneliness, Boni seems otherwise satisfied with his routine existence. He has a rabbit for a pet and lives in an apartment that's awfully small but has a great view of the harbor from its rooftop. He has some pals, a flexible work schedule, and it's hard to understand why he doesn't have--or try to have--a girlfriend. Maybe it's because his mother, who apparently adored him, has only recently died.
That Nenette, who is off at boarding school, never came to visit while their mother was dying sets off Boni's rage when she turns up. She has run away from school because she's finally faced the fact that she's pregnant. The heart of "Nenette and Boni" is how--with much wariness--brother and sister thrash through an attempt at some kind of harmonious relationship.
At one point the father (Jacques Nolot), who abandoned his family some time in the past, turns up with a lavish offering of food--pathetically craving a reconciliation. Their mother, he tries to explain, "was never a 'real woman' with me."
"Nenette and Boni," which has a gentle Tindersticks score, is a tender, impassioned celebration of life--about making pizza, about giving birth and about how the two are connected. Colin, Houri and Nolot never let us catch them acting.
In conjunction with the showing of "Nenette and Boni," the Nuart, which last year screened Denis' "I Can't Sleep" (1994), reprises it Saturday and Sunday at noon.
In "Sleep," Denis has created a taut, elegant, acutely observant study of several intersecting lives in contemporary Paris, where a beautiful, aspiring actress (Katerina Golubeva) arrives from Lithuania. Through her great-aunt, she manages to find shelter at a small hotel run by a warm, caring older woman (legendary singer-entertainer Line Renaud), where a handsome young gay man (Richard Courcet) also resides.
"Sleep" becomes a story of surviving in an often cold, alienating Paris, not only on the part of the actress and the gay man but also his brother (Alex Descas), a musician and carpenter who longs only to return to Martinique--a prospect dreaded by the young Parisian (Beatrice Dalle) who has borne him a child.
As these people go about their daily struggles we hear news reports in the media of a series of murders of elderly women. "Sleep" emerges as a powerful, unsettling comment on the illusion of security in all its aspects--emotional, financial and physical--in the modern world.
Nenette and Boni, 1997. Unrated. A Strand Releasing presentation. Director Claire Denis. Producer Georges Benayoun. Executive producer Francoise Guglielmi. Screenplay by Jean-Pol Fargeau and Denis. Cinematographer Agnes Godard. Editor Yann Dedet. Costumes Elisabeth Tavernier. Music Tindersticks. Set designer Arnaud de Moleron. In French with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes. Gregoire Colin as Boni. Alice Houri as Nenette. Jacques Nolot as The Father. Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi as The Baker Woman. Vincent Gallo as The Baker.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times