Claire Denis: Unpredictable Universe
To meet Claire Denis is to encounter a moviemaker in exquisite harmony with her films. Her naturally regal bearing carries and transmits an equally natural earthiness (which you can hear in her rough laughter), just as her becalmed camera is never less than ravenous for earth, sky, wind, water, and above all, humanity. The immediate intimacy reflected in Claire’s smile is there in the family meal in 35 Shots of Rum; her nomadic sensibility is manifested in the restless transcontinental movement of The Intruder; her curiosity and focus (she always speaks with utmost concision) are fully apparent in her precise rendering of interior unreality in the face of deteriorating exterior circumstances in White Material.
It has been heartening to witness Claire’s artistic progression across the years, and to consider the vast amount of territory, physical and spiritual, that she’s covered within each individual film and throughout her entire oeuvre. Her body of work plays in the imagination as a wonderfully varied and unpredictable universe of behaviors, environments and emotional and visual textures, not unlike the impression left by Bruegel’s canvases. Every film appears to be the result of an exploratory process, one that creates a special logic of character and place, along with one constant: nothing in humanity is fixed. Grace and roughness and tenderness and brutality and patience and impatience are coexistent.
There are passages in Claire’s work unlike anything else in movies, such as the enchanted Paris of 35 Shots of Rum, which breathes with a warm, lived-in beauty. Trouble Every Day is the most delicately concentrated rendering of atavism imaginable. Beau travail goes so deep into the world of male camaraderie and order that it appears to have been generated from the inside out, projected from the psyches of Denis Lavant’s Galoup and Michel Subor’s Commander Forestier onto the sun-drenched landscapes of Djibouti. With The Intruder and White Material, she finds a near abstract, incantatory power that merges in the mind with that of Faulkner.
In 2009, we ran an end-of-decade section in Film Comment, and when it came time for me to name my “Film Person of the Decade,” there didn’t seem to be any other choice. To know Claire Denis’ work over the last two decades has been a privilege. Artists this attuned to the rhythms of existence come along all too rarely.
On November 17, Claire Denis comes to the Walker for a Regis Dialogue with Kent Jones, a filmmaker and writer who serves as editor-at-large at Film Comment and artistic director of the World Cinema Foundation. Over the past 22 years, the Walker Art Center’s Regis Dialogue and Retrospective programs have brought some of today’s most innovative and influential filmmakers to the Walker Cinema to talk in-depth about their work.