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Arnaud Desplechin


January 5, 2006

La Vie de morts, 1991

vie_morts.gifEven from his first feature film La Vie des morts, Arnaud Desplechin was already establishing a quintessentially dynamic framework for his recurring themes on surrogacy, human idiosyncrasies, and the ephemeral nature of desire. In an interview with Cahiers du Cinéma writer Jean Douchet, Desplechin illustrates this envisioned (un)structure of relational roundelays in the composition of the film's opening sequence as Christian MacGillis (Thibault de Montalembert) observes his younger brother Yvan (Roch Leibovici) perched atop the trunk of a deciduous tree in the front yard and decides to join him in the tree pruning chore. The metaphoric image of haphazardly bifurcating limbs on the large, leafless tree being systematically cut down serves not only as a visual paradigm for the organic structure that would pervade Desplechin's subsequent films, but more immediately, as an analogy for the complex and seemingly inauspicious extended family history and pattern of pell-mell liaisons (that, for this particular weekend included a cousin, Bob's (Emmanuel Salinger) indecorous invitation of his girlfriend, Laurence (Emmanuelle Devos) to the somber occasion) that have converged on the MacGillis household for a death watch of their adoptive brother, an orphaned cousin named Patrick, after he is hospitalized for irreversible severe head injuries stemming from a suicide attempt. An early private conversation between Christian and his sister Pascale (Marianne Denicourt) reveals their concealed knowledge from other family members of Patrick's earlier suicide attempt, and begin to deliberate if they should now divulge this information to their parents who have been overcome by a sense of impotence and failure over the incident. Unfolding with an unexpected whimsicality, anarchic spirit, and gentle humor innate in everyday life as the MacGillis children alternately disparage and flirt with the hopelessly out of place Laurence, smoke pot, conjecture on the real motivation behind Patrick's suicide beyond the sanitized "official" family explanation, play practical jokes, and even attempt to cope with the personal crisis of a possible unexpected pregnancy, La Vie des morts reflects the existential need for reassurance through self-distraction and the conduct of everyday rituals within the collective crisis of imminent death. This theme of coexistent balance between the ritual of living and the process of dying is perhaps best illustrated in Pascale's early morning task at the conclusion of the film in a scenario that also prefigures Therese's self-induced mock birth and Léo's momentary hallucination in Playing 'In the Company of Men' - where blood becomes an interconnected symbol of life and death, genetic bond and surrogate transfiguration, innocence and moral stain - where biological processes trace the broader existential cycle of perpetual renewal.

Posted by acquarello on Jan 05, 2006 | | Comments (3) | Filed under 2006, Arnaud Desplechin


November 7, 2005

How I Got Into an Argument... (My Sex Life), 1996

argument.gifArnaud Desplechin's films may be anarchic and free-formed, but they are never without a sense of internal logic and intelligent construction. This liberating sense of organic structure is particularly evident in the opening sequence of How I Got Into an Argument... (My Sex Life): a napping assistant professor and seemingly perennial doctoral candidate, Paul Dedalus (Mathieu Amalric), awakened by a ray of light streaming through the window and the sound of remodeling of an adjacent faculty office that is being prepared for the arrival of the new department head of epistemology, emerges from a haze of drowsiness and construction dust to witness the dramatic (and literal) unmasking of a shiny new placard that reveals the name of a former graduate school colleague and estranged friend Frédéric Rabier (Michel Vuillermoz). This sequence proves to be a terse encapsulation of the nearly three hours of painstakingly observed human comedy that unfolds as the film chronicles the trajectory of Paul's emotional and existential awakening after (perhaps temporarily) breaking up with his long-term girlfriend Esther (Emmanuelle Devos), listening to his cousin Bob's (Thibault de Montalembert) nitpicking of his lover Patricia's (Chiara Mastroianni) idiosyncrasies, and flirting with an unsustainable affair involving the charming, but mercurial Valérie (Jeanne Balibar), the live-in lover of his over-analytical, but unmotivated friend Jean-Jacques (Denis Podalydès). Still nursing an unreconciled wound over an ill-fated love affair with the enigmatic Sylvia (Marianne Denicourt), who has since moved on - and moved in - with his colleague and friend Nathan (Emmanuel Salinger), Paul's obsession metastasizes in the form of his self-perceived rivalry - and fixation over unraveling the cause of the rupture - with his erstwhile friend, colleague, and co-author Frédéric. At the core of Paul's neurotic preoccupation is the underlying egocentrism of human nature that attempts to define the puzzle of all relationships through the pre-formed contours of our own cognition and need for validation. It is this pensive insecurity and melancholic romanticism that inevitably makes Desplechin's films (and in particular, this one) so attractive and endearing: the realization of our own pathological need to believe that somehow, in that however brief moment of connection, we have indelibly touched the life of another - that object of desire or kindred spirit - and consequently disrupted the eternal order of things and irreparably altered the very structure of its soul.

Posted by acquarello on Nov 07, 2005 | | Filed under 2005, Arnaud Desplechin