Blu-Ray Review | 35 Shots of Rum | 2008

Perhaps it's because it was my first encounter with Claire Denis as a budding young cinephile, but 35 Shots of Rum has always held a special place in my heart. Perhaps too it's due to my general affinity for the work of Yasujiro Ozu, because this film is Denis' loving riff on Ozu-ian themes; a widowed father facing loneliness as his adult daughter falls in love and contemplates getting married and moving out. 

It's a classic Ozu storyline, most indelibly captured in his 1949 masterpiece, Late Spring. But Denis is not one to simply retread what has been done before, and she puts her own spin on 35 Shots of Rum's bittersweet father/daughter tale. She sets the mood immediately - Lionel (Alex Descas) is a train conductor, we follow him riding the rails in cinematographer Agnes Godard's dusky hues, accompanied by the melancholic noodlings of Tinderstick's dreamy score. 

If any filmmaker can be said to be a master of creative vibes, it's Denis, and 35 Shots of Rum has *vibes* to spare, but it's certainly more than the atmosphere she conjures. There isn't a lot of dialogue in the film - we gather what we need to know through snippets of conversations, glances, symbolic gifts; there's a lot of meaning in Denis' film that exists between the lines. Lionel's co-worker, Noe (Grégoire Colin) is interested in his daughter, Josephine (Mati Diop), a match she initially shows little interest in but he reluctantly encourages so as not to feel like a burden. In his attempts to end the isolation they've felt since the passing of his wife, he may isolate them even more than they were before.

Denis' films often have an otherworldly quality, like something out of a half-remembered dream (see, for instance, Beau Travail). And while that is in some ways true of 35 Shots of Rum, it also feels incredibly lived in and world-weary, pregnant with the heaviness of a life of loneliness and disappointment at a crossroads that could lead to happiness and liberation, or even more loneliness. It feels as though its characters are somehow resigned to a mixture of both, and therein lies its inherent sadness - the more things change, the more things stay the same. 

Cinema Guild recently released the film on Blu-Ray for the first time in the US, and it's a hugely welcome upgrade. While many of Denis' other films have enjoyed Blu-Ray releases in recent years, 35 Shots of Rum has remained fairly scarce since its original DVD release in 2009, and it's good to see one of her most celebrated films get the treatment it has long deserved. Special features include "A Dance of Feelings: Claire Denis in Conversation with Eric Hynes (2022)," "A Regis Dialogue at the Walker Art Center: Claire Denis: Unpredictable Universe (2012)," an excerpt from 'Talking With Ozu.' a Theatrical Trailer, and a booklet featuring an essay by Blair McClendon. But the real special feature is, of course, the film, as moving a portrait of familial relations as the movies have ever produced, and a great entry point for anyone looking to explore the varied and intoxicating filmography of Claire Denis.

GRADE - ★★★★ (out of four)

35 SHOTS OF RUM | Directed by Claire Denis | Stars Alex Descas, Mati Diop, Nicole Dogué Grégoire, Colin Julieth, Mars Toussaint | Not Rated | In French w/English subtitles | Now available on Blu-Ray and DVD from The Cinema Guild.


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