Sunday, 10 January 2010


Centring on the strong bond between Lionel, a widowed father and his doting adult daughter Jo, Claire Denis’ critically acclaimed 35 Shots of Rum is a trim, broody drama which betrays the formalistic excesses of modern cinema in favour of profound character development. Since the death of his wife, Lionel has struck up a close friendship with neighbour and ex-lover Gabrielle, and continues to pursue her under the pretext of providing Jo with a new mother figure. The retirement of a colleague at work inspires him to re-evaluate his priorities as he begins to realise his age. Meanwhile, Jo finds herself being courted by two men from different backgrounds, but consigns herself to spending all her time with her father. Despite their jokes about one not being able to let go of the other, Lionel and Jo acknowledge the gravity of their relationship, and an impromptu evening of festivity brings these unarticulated emotions to the surface.

One can only go so far in calling a film ‘gentle’ before it starts to sound intolerably twee, but the tenderness of Denis’ film is what makes it so powerful. Where so many other directors would have felt duty-bound to justify the emotions of this family with plenty of arguments and tears, Denis refuses to enforce the characters’ identities on the audience, instead allowing them to speak for themselves. Evoking the understated dramas of Yasujiro Ozu (a director whom Denis greatly admires), 35 Shots of Rum is an honest, compelling study of familial love.

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