Denis. Claire Denis is here because of the strength of her 1999 film – Beau travail– a gorgeously and rhythmically shot tone poem. Denis has thirteen films since her debut in 1988. I’ve seen seven of them, and, thus far, archived four. Her signature is really eschewing the traditional narrative and even forgoing a clear cinematic style. Her films are most often studies of the human condition and social prejudices.
Best film: Beau travail. This is easily the most visually stunning and beautifully photographed film from Denis. Here she favors long shots of bodies in motion—edited to a set rhythm to give it a splendid grandeur– operatic. (hard not to think of Riefenstahl’s Olympia). It is also meditation on envy.
total archiveable films: 4
top 100 films: 0
top 500 films: 0
top 100 films of the decade: 1 (Beau travail)
most overrated: Lots to choose from here which is not surprising- I’m pretty far away from the consensus on Denis. There are whopping eight films from Denis that land in the TSPDT consensus list for the 21st century. And both Beau travail and The Intruder land in the top 1000 of all-time. Even her best work- Beau travail– is overrated at slot #118 on the TSPDT consensus list (which puts it #5 for the entire decade of the 1990’s. If forced to single one out- I’ll go with High Life from 2018. I look forward to revisiting it to see if I missed anything- but for now, #8 for all of 2018 seems lofty. I’d have it closer to #58.
most underrated : I do not have an underrated film for Claire Denis.
gem I want to spotlight : After Beau travail I would recommend White Material– though currently I do think slightly more of Isabelle Huppert’s lead performance—than Denis’ achievement.
- Shunning conventional cinema—lead to an unpredictability (Denis herself talks about how she hates control and prefers to “capture moments…pieces of time” – “What I like during filming is that these are moments when you have the right not to reply and to let things happen”
- Lyrical—freedom in the choices with the camera
- The subjects in her works are cultural discord, racism
- Beau travail
- White Material
- The Intruder
- 35 Shots of Rum
By year and grades
|1999- Beau travail||HR|
|2004- The Intruder||R|
|2008- 35 Shots of Rum||R|
|2009- White Material||R|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives
There is something about Denis. She really is a visual tone poet. Here’s what I find interesting though: there is realism in her work, though it’s not really realism. I don’t know how to explain it exactly. I’ve watched Beau Travail and White Material and I’ve noticed a few patterns. They are both beautifully photographed and there is a certain freedom with regards to form and even camera movements, shots, mise en scene. It is realism in the sense that nothing is glorified in her films and yet everything is intensified. A combination of gorgeous photography, a very startling score and a tendency to intensely study the faces in her films and focus on small details create a sense of lyricism. I think it is a rare mix. Personally, I haven’t seen it in any other auteur.
But what is also very striking, and I believe this is what really distinguishes her, is the ending in her stories. There is distinct ominous atmosphere in both Beau Travail and White Material, but even so, when we talk about climax, there is none more operatic and intense (when compared to the rest of the film) than the one found in Denis’ two films. Completely shocking, destructive and yet somehow it still seems inevitable, if we take a closer look. So utterly tragic. Both times I was shocked. Now that is a characteristic in the way the films are written and play out, and I don’t know if it can factor in how we value Denis as a director (though she also does the writing as far as I know).
Your list of directors is honestly incredible, really spot on (I always thought it was going to unfold into your best yet) and there is nobody on it that I feel you’ve overrated (though your special love for De Sica – which I cannot begrudge, Two Women would land in my top 500 too – shows). There are very few auteurs I’d say you’ve underrated a touch, and for now I think Denis falls into that category. I think critics have occasionally overrated her too, but based on the couple of films I’ve seen, I think #237 is a little harsh. I would probably include her in the top 200, considering how characteristic her tone is. Granted, I haven’t watched all of her work, but only two films. Beau Travail though is especially strong and White Material is there to push through.
@Joel- thank you for the fix here
@Anderson- Invaluable- thank you for the help again here and the 2021 page