“We think ourselves in love / we think ourselves fiercely rooted
still it always comes / the time of unraveled ties”
— Jean-Louis Murat, Le Lien Défait
This song by Jean-Louis Murat is not only the beating heart of one of the many unforgettable scenes in Claire Denis’s work, it also alludes to one of the themes that’s dear to her : the fragility of human relationships — the filiation between brother and sister in Nénette and Boni, or father and daughter in 35 Shots of Rum, but also the passionate liaison between two fleeting lovers in Friday Night or the yearning for another portrayed as all-devouring hunger in Trouble Every Day. Over the course of thirty years, Denis has built up an idiosyncratic oeuvre that evokes a world in which amorous or familial relationships are never self-evident and in which characters relate to each other in a continuous game of attraction and rejection.
It is the attentive observation of characters who encounter each other through experiences of desire, pleasure, pain or fear that is central to Denis's cinema. She once remarked, “capturing characters that are embodied by actors on film is what really interests me.” Hence the many dance scenes that run like a red thread through her films: just think of the aforementioned performance scene from I Can’t Sleep, but also the equally phenomenal dance scenes from Beau Travail or 35 Shots of Rum. They are all pulsating moments that are exemplary of the enormous emotional expressiveness that she knows how to extract from the patient and intuitive observation of moving bodies that are trying to position themselves in an environment where they do not always belong.
It’s no coincidence that music is a leading factor in Denis’s films: she regards music as an "ally" who has accompanied her life and work since France became her home, after having spent her first thirteen years with her parents in various colonial outposts in Africa. That childhood experience resonates strongly in her debut Chocolat and White Material, which paint a disconcerting image of the injuries and aftermath of French colonialism in Africa. But the concern for the experience of displacement and the relation to alterity can also be felt in the literary sources of inspiration that resonate in her films, ranging from Frantz Fanon's study of the psychological effects of colonization to William Faulkner's portrayal of the brutality of patriarchal and racial oppression.
“The desire to make a film is the desire to see others,” Claire Denis once said. Whether the focus is on a corps of the French foreign legion in Djibouti (Beau Travail), migrant communities in the margins of Paris (I Can’t Sleep), or, more recently, a prison ship adrift in another solar system (High Life), time and time again, Claire Denis's films are characterized by a searching, sensing sensitivity towards worlds that are not necessarily her own. A sensitivity that she gladly shares with faithful long-term companions such as cinematographer Agnes Godard, co-writer Jean-Pol Fargeau, editor Nelly Quettier, composer Stuart A. Staples and actors such as Alex Descas, Grégoire Colin, Vincent Gallo or Béatrice Dalle. For Claire Denis filmmaking never implies less than "entering into a relationship", in an intimate search for the ties that bind, for a connection in wonder, whose resonance will always be uncertain.
In conjunction with the Belgian release of High Life, CINEMATEK and Courtisane organize a retrospective of the work of Claire Denis.
With the support of the French embassy in Brussels.
For more information and tickets: www.cinematek.be