04 August 2007

Barocco (1976, André Téchiné)

{58, B-, **1/2} | Walter Reade Theater, "Tough & Tender: The Films of Gérard Depardieu"

• I don't think I was really aware, when I first discovered Téchiné following the 1995 U.S. release of his sublime Wild Reeds, that he'd already been making movies for a good 20 years at that point. Barocco, which screened in New Directors/New Films back in the day, was his third feature, and I can't recall ever having even heard of it prior to this week, though a cursory check of its IMDb page reveals that it won several Césars (cinematography, score, supporting actress) and was nominated for a passel more, Best Picture included. In any case, I went in expecting Téchiné's usual impassioned naturalism, and just about fell out of my seat.

• Not to scare anybody off or anything—this is a fascinating if severely flawed film that's well worth your time—but in a bunch of ways Barocco feels something like Téchiné's Element of Crime. Obviously his sensibility couldn't be further removed from Von Trier's, but you wouldn't necessarily know that from this cryptic exercise in lush formalism, in which emotion is strictly theoretical and genre serves only as a flimsy clothesline upon which to hang movement and color. (The print screened at the Walter Reade looked somewhat faded to me, I should note.) Many shots, like the left-to-right track across the bustling newspaper office immediately followed by the rhyming right-to-left track across seats of train passengers all devouring the latest headlines, have no discernible narrative function at all—they're more like movements than scenes. Indeed, I assume the title, which never comes up in the film itself, overtly cops to Téchiné's subordination of genre to style.

• Speaking of which, this is ostensibly a thriller: Depardieu plays a washed-up boxer who, as near I could make out—exposition is thankfully scarce—has agreed to claim (falsely, I think) that he had a homosexual affair with a politician currently running for high office. But he and his girl (Adjani) wind up taking an equally large payoff to remain silent, whereupon nebulous Forces of Evil come calling. Then the disorienting gimmick kicks in: Depardieu winds up killed (early on, not really a spoiler) by a hired assassin also played by Depardieu, who then stalks Adjani looking for the cash. Except it's never acknowledged that these two men, lover and killer, look virtually identical—indeed, the first time we see Depardieu-the-thug, who kisses Adjani while she's sleeping, we have no reason not to assume that he's Depardieu-the-boxer. Much cognitive dissonance ensues, though this Suture-in-reverse ploy loses much of its mysterious allure later in the film, when the thug actually starts prattling about how much he envied the boxer's life. Thanks for the nudge, André.

• Again, though, you may be too busy drinking in Barocco's stunning images to worry overmuch about its dodgy metaphysics. Like some of Assayas' films, this is an academic's gorgeously sterile vision of murder and mayhem, as often thrilling as it is exasperating. Téchiné's restless curiosity about the medium is palpable, and the movie's occasional clumsiness (invariably as a result of overreaching) is a big part of its chilly charm. (So too is Ms. Adjani in full-bore nuthouse mode.)

• Curious New Yorkers have another shot at Barocco on 8 August (Wed) at 6:15pm. It's available on DVD as well.


Jeff said...

In other news...Daisy Kenyon is on it's way to DVD as part of the Fox Noir series.


sleeper said...

Yee haw! I am officially psyched for DAISY KENYON. Mike D'Angelo's recommendations have carried a lot of weight with me ever since I read his review of THE GAME in EW years ago and thought "Holy crap! Someone else actually had the same reaction to that movie as I did!" Although I still don't get what all the fuss is about 25TH HOUR...

On a related note, I strongly urge folks to check out COUNSELLOR AT LAW, an oldie I just saw on DVD a few days ago, which I doubt I would have seen or even heard of if I hadn't noticed it at the top of one of md'a's 1933 top-ten list. John Barrymore is fucking amazing in this. My new favorite stage-to-screen adaptation.

Nictate said...

If you haven't seen "Weeds" Season 2 (now on DVD), you're missing out on Zooey Deschanel's most effervescent performance yet (4 episodes worth). She takes an already delightfully warped show and rides it to Mars. Sweeeeet.

Nictate said...

"Or even—is it possible? they’re so very dissimilar!—become a friend himself, practically against his will."


Nictate said...

“Just once I'd like to see a Jesus movie where they close up the tomb after the crucifixion and then a caption appears: THREE DAYS LATER...”

Hahaha. You and your clever quips, MD'A.