by Ryland Walker Knight
Last Tuesday marked the beginning of the current Jacques Doillon retrospective at French Institute-Alliance Française with a screening of 1985's La Vie de famille, which Dan Salitt says is lovely. I missed it, and I'm bummed. However, I can say that tonight's film, Le petit criminel, is well worth seeing if you happen to live in New York City. I hope to have some words formed about it, and next week's Ponette, for your reading pleasure at The Auteurs' Notebook soon. I'll keep you updated. What's most striking, so far, looking at Doillon's cinema in the order of its programmed appearance at the FIAF, is the focus on children—and their complete "naturalness" in front of the camera. The close-up effaces, or makes transparent, any masks they (wish or hope to) wear. Set mostly in a two-door almost-truck, Le petit criminel is meager, and subtle, a restricted (head) space prone to jammed signals, to cluttered thoughts. The endgame may appear "open" to some but, as the cop says earlier in the picture, there should be no doubt as to where the story winds up; how the angles converge and how the camera pushes into that space (as well as away) define its characteristic (to say, stubborn) resilience. I can only guess how this plays out fuller in La vie de famille, as this trailer below hints at a film teeming with a lot of things I love, like Juliette Binoche, words, language, direct-address, diegetic video use, family problems despite good intentions, life's inherent corruption (and corruptibility), Sami Frey all man-like some 20-plus years after Godard had him dancing all boy-like, and so on; my attraction should become readily apparent as you click play.
Since I'm following the screening schedule, kinda, this puts my viewing of Doillon's films of the 1970s back a bit in my personal queue. This is fine by me, of course, as I've subscribed to a certain curriculum, if you will, but it makes it a little harder to gauge at this point how much similarity his work bears to those of his post-vague filmmaking brethren (the press release mentions Eustache and Garrel to get nerds like me excited) over against a larger tradition of gallic cinema. So far, it seems like he's got more to say to Truffaut and Pialat than those other dudes. More soon. —Oh, and a quick thanks to all the ideas and thoughts thrown my way in that last (now enormous) thread at Girish's joint. [x-posted at the curator corner.]