June 1, 2009

DVD OF (LAST) WEEK: Nenette and Boni

Nenette and Boni

Nénette et Boni (Nenette and Boni)
Directed by Claire Denis
1996, 103 minutes, In French with English subtitles
Strand Releasing

Nenette and BoniIn his secret diary "Confessions of a Wimp," sullen 19-year-old and Marseilles pizza-van operator Bonifacio (Grégoire Colin) professes his horniest dominant fantasies for the neighborhood baker's space-cadet wife (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, married to a perpetually flour-coated Vincent Gallo), but as his self-effacing title suggests, he's incapable of following through. Aside from his intense stalker stare and ineffectual come-ons (ordering from his object of lust "a nice, long French stick," she replies that they're all the same length), Boni's passion manifests itself in sensually shot masturbation sessions—and, as its undulating gurgle seeps into one of his lewd dreams, the Krups coffeemaker on his nightstand, which he awakes to with a smile and bedroom eyes. Later, it's the act of kneading dough that spurs on an orgasm, further proof that this teenager is coming of age in the distinctively impressionistic, lyrically detailed style of beloved auteur Claire Denis and her regular writing partner Jean-Pol Fargeau (Beau Travail, The Intruder, 35 Rhums).

Nenette and Boni Nenette and Boni isn't about sex or coupling, however, but intimacy and bonding. In Boni's mind, the baker and his wife symbolize an idealistically devoted relationship, which is far from what he has with Nénette (Alice Houri), his 15-year-old sister who has escaped from boarding school and arrived on his doorstep, seven months pregnant. Estranged since their parents' split at a young age, Nénette is at first an inexplicable annoyance to her brother (he gets angry at her for doing the dishes), perhaps because he associates her with the shady father he so despises. Until her arrival, Boni has also never had to answer to anyone as king of a ramshackle home he inherited from his dead mother, now filled with his crashed-out hoodlum pals. But it's her immature indifference to her approaching motherhood that eventually becomes the key to giving his life purpose and responsibility; to releasing his solitary soul.

Nenette and Boni It's a melodramatic premise on paper (right down to an ill-advised abortion attempt) that, in the wrong hands, might have succumbed to the sensationalism of its mildly incestuous undertones, but the point is that the siblings' emotional urgency for one another is beyond family, or even lovers. Aided by cinematographer extraordinaire Agnès Godard, Denis plays with sensory textures, evocative tableaux, searching close-ups, and even prismatic abstractions to articulate human behavior and sentiments that can't—or maybe aren't meant to—be articulated. The camera roams over rows of decadent pastries before cheekily settling on one more worldly delight, a sneaky voyeur's view of Bruni-Tedeschi's cleavage. A fleeting portrait of an innocent bunny staring us down from the palm of Boni's hand arrives while he's simultaneously urinating, encapsulating the tenderness that secretly lurks under his uncivilized demeanor. Perhaps some viewers might feel gypped that answers to the plot's basic setups are left guarded (Why does Boni hate his father? Who is the father of Nénette's baby?), but then they've missed out on the experience: this is a film that specifically illustrates how intangibly complex and ultimately enchanting a subject as severe as emotional co-dependence can be.

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Posted by ahillis at June 1, 2009 3:31 PM


Excellent choice, Aaron. I'm glad Strand finally put this out. Now, if only someone will do the same for S'en fout la mort and Trouble Every Day.

Posted by: Joe Bowman at June 1, 2009 5:02 PM

You meant ''SPUR on an orgasm', presumably. Spurn (were you thinking of sperm, perhaps?) means something else.

Posted by: Boe Jowman at June 3, 2009 9:29 AM

Good catch.

Posted by: Aaron Hillis at June 3, 2009 9:33 AM
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