Then comes the separation...
Starting and ending with a set of winding, never-ending, ever-connected train tracks, Claire Denis’ 35 Shots of Rum, more than anything else, seeks to elide the emotional, physical, and psychical distances between the people and places who establish irreversible connections within their own communities. The problematic distances or connections extend from the smallest kitchen to a dark hallway and flooding into the vibrant streets of an effervescent city. 35 Shots of Rum, at its best, beautifully captures the deeper impact of these subtle, spare moments by providing an equally scant soundtrack that intensifies and underscores the small, yet deeply critical decisions that could have a resounding impact on the challenged interpersonal networks of family, community, and city. While the film is occasionally self-defeating in overstating already excessively literal moments, Denis’ formal control rules the day as it propels a quiet power by displaying the grace and poise so central to the success of the film’s core concepts.
All that love, all that effort in order to rise to the task, to achieve this equilibrium...
35 Shots of Rum follows the lives of Lionel, a metro conductor, and his daughter Josephine, a university student who still lives with him in a small apartment. Also entering the equation are respective love interests – Gabrielle, a longtime neighbor and ex of Lionel’s, and Noe, a neighbor who is interested in Josephine. Just as the train tracks bend and wind in, out, and around the city, so too do the characters move within each other’s lives. Lionel and Josephine have begun to move in different directions, as the role of father and young daughter begins to morph into individual dependency and the need to move...somewhere.
But now you’re leaving me to live your own life, says the father to himself. Allow me, please, allow me to breathe easy a little longer at your side, thinks the daughter.
Clinging to one another, although at a dead lock in the home, exemplified by a battle of home appliances, Lionel and Josephine trouble themselves more by not allowing anyone into their family network. They have become closed off, despite the open space and opportunity around them. Denis plays with this relationship in the screenplay and the formalism by often stuffing the frame with bodies, heads, and...stuff. This visual battle is countered by fractions of light, the splitting of the train tracks, and the literal spaces between the characters in specific moments. As they simultaneously cling to one another and discover the need for separation, 35 Shots of Rum becomes a film about love in all its forms.
The father: I believe my future withered as you grew. And I held firm, I did my best.
The daughter: Will I be loved as much as you love me?
If the warmth and depth of 35 Shots of Rum is any indication, Denis is addressing this question throughout the film and uncovering the answer for all of us: a definitive yes.
Quotations part of Claire Denis's Directors Note.
Images courtesy The Cinema Guild.