French drama serves up shots of humanity

A testament to the value of the small film, “35 Shots of Rum” is an atmospherically exquisite and quietly powerful story about love, loss, friendship, desire, and the intimate glances and cozy dinners that add meaning and satisfaction to life.

The French drama comes from the superb writer-director Claire Denis, whose films include the colonialism-themed “Chocolat” and the “Billy Budd” inspired “Beau Travail.” Her filmmaking style immerses viewers in her characters’ rhythms and routines; Denis’ new movie is especially accessible and full of humanity.

Following a train sequence that some may find lengthy comes the introduction of the father-daughter relationship that drives the story, which transpires in a suburb of Paris.

Lionel (Alex Descas), a widowed metro conductor, and Josephine (Mati Diop), a college student, live in an apartment where they’ve shared a close and loving bond ever since Jo’s mother died.

Both realize, however, that Josephine can’t be ironing her father’s shirts and cooking rice dishes for the two of them for the rest of her days. Separation, though traumatic, must occur.

Two neighbors shape that reality. Noe (Gregoire Collin), a restless young man who lives with his 17-year-old cat, aches for Josephine. Gabrielle (Nicole Dogue), a cab driver, used to be Lionel’s lover and hopes to resume that status.

Co-written by Denis and Jean-Pol Fargeau, the story — which contains a death, wedding, pivotal trip to Germany and breaking-away anxiety — is rather normal in terms of plot points, its Denis-specific immigration themes notwithstanding.

But her ability to gently absorb us in the ripples of people’s lives, and to compellingly tell a story without many words (assisted by Agnes Godard’s cinematography) — a passage in which attractions and jealousies play out via body language on a cafe dance floor is most memorable — gives this movie little-gem status.

In the film — which was inspired at least in part by Yasujiro Ozu’s father-daughter tale “Late Spring” — Denis delivers one of her most resonantly human dramas to date.

Even with a scenario or two that play out predictably (a colleague who can’t cope with retirement, for example), you feel caught up in the moments of caring and contact.

Also deserving mention is the solid cast, with Descas, a Denis regular, especially strong.

The title refers to a notable round of drinking that Lionel declines to attempt at his friend’s retirement party, citing his desire to wait for a more fitting occasion. Such a time indeed arrives, and it’s hard to imagine a more perfect bit of closure.

Movie Review

35 Shots of Rum

Three and a half stars

Starring Alex Descas, Mati Diop, Nicole Dogue, Gregoire Collin
Written by Claire Denis, Jean-Pol Fargeau
Directed by Claire Denis
Not rated
Running time 1 hour 39 minutes

35 Shots of RumartsClaire DenisentertainmentOther Arts

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott leaves the scene of an officer-involved shooting at Brannan Street and Jack London Alley in the South Park area on Friday, May 7, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Chief Scott issues rare apology to man shot by SF police

Officer says he ‘did not intend for his firearm to go off’

Despite the pandemic, San Francisco has ended the fiscal year with a budget surplus. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Better than expected tax revenues leave city with $157.3M surplus for this year

As the fiscal year nears an end and Mayor London Breed prepares… Continue reading

Passengers board a BART train bound for the San Francisco Airport at Powell Street station. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
BART bumps up service restoration to August 30, offers fare discounts

Rail agency breaks pandemic ridership records, prepares to welcome more passengers

Ashley and Michelle Monterrosa hold a photo of their brother Sean Monterrosa, who was killed by a Vallejo police officer early Tuesday morning, as they are comforted at a memorial rally at the 24th Street Mission BART plaza on Friday, June 5, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
State Department of Justice to investigate Sean Monterrosa shooting by Vallejo police

Attorney General Rob Bonta steps in after Solano County DA declines case

Gov. Gavin Newsom, show here speaking at the City College of San Francisco mass vaccination site in April, faces a recall election due to anger on the right over his handling of the pandemic, among other issues. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Why Gavin Newsom’s popularity could work against him in the recall election

Top pollster: ‘We’re not seeing the Democrats engaged in this election. And that may be a problem…’

Most Read