Lionel is a train driver on Paris’s rapid-transit rail network. He has been raising his daughter, Josephine, alone ever since she was a little girl. She has now grown into a young woman. They live side by side, a little bit like a couple, refusing the advances and cares of others. For Lionel, only his daughter counts, and for Josephine, it’s her father who is the most important person in the world.
Little by little, Lionel realized that time is passing by, even for them. The time to leave each other is perhaps approaching.
About the film
35 Shots of Rum is a strange dance made up of loose mobility and anxious fixedness, which, alongside one or two characters who are soon like close friends, becomes softly intoxicated with the laws of existence, such as everyone from their particular place, experiences them, and responds to them. The extreme composition of the movements (physical, musical, affective) does not correspond to any formalist rule, but rather to the quest for the most exact way of accompanying a handful of people in a moment of their existence, and taking with them “a turning point in life”— an only daughter leaving home, changing age.
Claire Denis’s films, which often accommodate stridency, invariably develop above all in a tone of whispering, which may be disconcerting, or even terrifying. Here it is a variant, that of a song sung with closed mouth, too discreet to utter what is being enacted, but sufficiently right and precise to give in-depth access to it.
As is often the case, it is possible to identify several sources in 35 Shots of Rum, an autobiographical source inspired by the relationship between the film-maker’s mother and her grandfather, and a film-buff’s source, because the narrative thread borrows that of several films made by Yasujiro Ozu, in particular Late Spring. In addition to the allusions (the rice cooker) and the particular serenity of the direction, the choice of Lionel’s profession refers to the importance of trains in the urban landscape of Ozu’s films.
Her films bear their viewers away, towards a hidden place: to the heart of darkness, it might be said, and all the more readily because African sources play a decisive part for her. But this darkness is not necessarily that of inextricable jungle or the blackness of the human soul. It is the darkness of the mysteries of our existence, of our desires, and our fears, here, now, and everywhere. It would be a futile quest to seek out among French filmmakers someone as filled with a sense of the world, in all its geographical and human complexity, as Claire Denis. As the grand-daughter of an inhabitant of Amazonia, and daughter of a colonial administrator, she was brought up at the mercy of her father’s postings in an Africa which has directly inspired several of her films (CHOCOLATE, GOOD WORK, WHITE MATERIAL), and haunts them all. She came to film somewhat haphazardly, after being an IDHEC (film school) student with no particular bent, and discovered the degree of her affinity with the language of film as a result of other journeys, aesthetic and geographical alike. Listen to the noise of the large Korean port in THE INTRUDER after the mediaeval chill of the Haut Doubs region of eastern France, feel the dry, white heat of WHITE MATERIAL, hear the harmonics of three continents around the cock-fighting pit in NO FEAR, NO DIE: this particular cinema is highly sensitive to the powers of places, to the political stakes of meetings, to the joyous and dangerous enigmas of the differences between languages, cultures, quality of light and music. Other journeys, other encounters, in Asia especially, in South America and in the Arab world too, would then continue to make Claire Denis the most cosmopolitan of French filmmakers, of either gender. © From Claire Denis—A Sense of the World By Jean-Michel Frodon