Thursday, April 15, 2010

1994: Les Roseaux sauvages (Andre Techine)

1994: Les Roseaux sauvages (Andre Techine)
Fans of Renoir's A Day in the Country take notice!  Along with that famous film, this is one of French cinema's most poetically pastoral works.
Not only is it visually stunning, Les Roseaux sauvages is also emotionally devastating.  In fact, it captures the complexity of adolescence as well as anything I've ever seen.  It's depthful, penetrating, nakedly honest, and gets at the vulnerabilities of mid-teens in a remarkably truthful way.   
One of these films where everything seems to have aligned perfectly, the director's sensibility with the material, the casting, and the choice of locations.  A staggering accomplishment from Techine, one of my favorite films of the nineties, and one to be seen by Francophiles and non-Francophiles as soon as possible.    
Other contenders for 1994:  From this year, I still have some things to see.  These include: Jacques Rivette's Joan the Maid, Bela Tarr's Satantango, Olivier Assayas' Cold Water, Patricia Mazuy's Travolta et moi, and Edward Yang's A Confucian Confusion.  At some point, I need to revisit Krzysztof Kieslowski's Red as it's been too long since I've seen it to know where it'd place on this list.  I also owe both Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction and Frank Darabont's The Shawshank Redemption another look as I've struggled with them both a little in the past.  From this year though I really like James Gray's Little Odessa, Tim Burton's Ed Wood, Lodge Kerrigan's Clean, Shaven, and Clint Eastwood's A Perfect World.  I love Abbas Kiarostami's Through the Olive Trees and Wong Kar-wai's Chungking Express.  And my closest runner-up is Nanni Moretti's Caro Diario.

12/8/13 I watched Joel and Ethan Coen's The Hudsucker Proxy.  Not very fulfilling from an emotional level, but some of the filmmaking is impressive.  And the scene where the kid first discovers the hula hoop is classic.

10/5/14 I watched Whit Stillman's Barcelona.  I admire Stillman and think he has been able to put a very unique, idiosyncratic cinema together but this film is never fully able to blend all of its different elements.  I hope Stillman gets more chances and I will be interested in seeing what else he can do even if this one was a disappointment.  

6/25/16 I watched Alan Rudolph's Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle.  Not as familiar with Rudolph as I am Altman but this feels much in line with the dreamy, ensemble pieces of the masterful American director.  Jason Leigh puts everything she has got into her dazzling performance and her special talents are once again on display.  A bit too hazy at times and could use a traditional arc up at some point but overall a very interesting depiction of the art world in the 30s and 40s.

7/18/18 I watched Bobby and Peter Farrelly's Dumb and Dumber.  It has some painfully funny moments, particularly in its first half.  But its sub-plots never add up to enough to make us care past some of its first flashes of funny.

3/3/19 I watched Kelly Reichardt's River of Grass.  Some interesting stylistic choices in the beginning but it all quickly becomes kinda flat and unengaging.  

1/15/20 I watched Olivier Assayas' Cold Water.  It's hard to place the film stylistically within the history of French cinema.  To come closest, I would say in its thematic interests and mood it reminded me of Pialat.  In its style, I can't think of anyone up to that point in French cinema who used long takes and the handheld camera as much as Assayas does.  I found both the style and the downbeat tone a bit overly heavy.  But there are a number of things on the other hand that are excellent - Assayas' sense of place, use of music, Ledoyen's beauty, and the film's final three to five minutes.

11/27/21 I watched Claire Denis' US Go Home.  A medium-length film by Denis that ranks with the best of our work.  It shows her ability with mood, young actors, cinematic music, romance from the female perspective and the richness that comes when people from different languages and cultures interact and spend time together.  

1/17/22 I watched Jean-Pierre Limosin's Abbas Kiarostami - Vertites et songes.  For many years I have minimized the benefits of YouTube, preferring to criticize the quality of the works available there that could not be found anywhere else rather than revel in finally being able to see certain things.  The French series of documentaries, Cineastes de notre temps and  Cinema, de notre temps, refute anything I may have thought or felt all these years.  The documentaries are difficult to see in the states yet are some of the most powerful documents of some of the medium's greatest directors.  I believe there are more than 50 documentaries in all ranging from Renoir to Moretti, Lang to Cassavetes and many, many others.

What makes the series special is evident when watching the one on Kiarostami.  It is not a history of Kiarostami's life or cinema but rather an attempt to spend some time with the filmmaker.  We hear him talk and see him interact with different people he has worked with and different people he runs into on the streets.  By the end, we are no longer grappling to understand how a man could create such extraordinary work because we have just spent time in his shoes, sitting in his chair, seeing and feeling the world as he experiences it.

1/20/22 I watched Andre S Labarthe and Jean Douchet's Eric Rohmer, preuves a l'appui.  Rohmer is not near as charismatic on film as Rivette when it's his turn to be the focus of Cinema, de notre temps.  Douchet also does not add as much as I would have expected, compared to Daney in the Rivette doc.  

4/3/22 I watched Anne-Marie Mieville's Lou n'a pas dit non.  There are some unusually striking passages, like the dance performance and the final moments.  But like much of later Godard, it never clicked enough for me to know how to fully champion it.

6/11/22 I watched Frederick Wiseman's High School II.  It is yet another powerful and important film from Wiseman.  While watching it, and I have never had this exact thought before, I couldn't help but think about the void that will be left when Wiseman is no longer making films.  No one in American film consistently examines our country, our people, our successes, our failures as deeply as Wiseman.  And no one takes the American dream to task, dissecting its shortcomings, in as profound and as important of a manner.  He is a giant in our country's cinema and among American artists in the 20th and 21st centuries.

10/21/22 I watched William Friedkin's Blue Chips.  A film where even the scenes of basketball and Nolte struggled to hold my attention.  

2/25/24 I watched Marilyn Mulford and Connie Field's Freedom on My Mind.  A powerful and affecting documentary that succeeds in making us feel the courage required by both the African-American and white activists in the civil rights movement.  The interviews are candid and the people involved inspiring.  Serves as a reminder of how far we have come and the courage necessary if we want to continue the work. 


  1. Fantastic choice from a very strong year! Techine's run in the late 80s, early 90s was remarkable, but I do agree that this is his finest hour. I've never seen DAY AT THE COUNTRY but would love to check it out of course.

    Both Kieslowski's RED and Tarantino's PF are landmark achievements in my book. I also like Cameron's TRUE LIES quite a bit, but it's tough to quibble with your choice here.

  2. Thanks, Andrew! I still have a good many Techine films I want to see. I hear great things about his early eighties work, and I've missed some of his recent films, as well.

    TRUE LIES is another I'll need to revisit at some point. It's been fifteen plus years since I've seen it.

    Great to hear from you. Thanks so much!

  3. Jeffrey: I had not counted WILD REEDS for this year, but being that you did here I'll readily say it's a masterpiece of cinema, a film I originally saw in the theatre upon it's release, and have promoted endlessly since then. I'm willing to admit it ranks among the decade's best, and agree with you in pointing to it's deep emotional core. I have watched all of Techine's films, including his very fine THE WITNESSES from last year, and WILD REEDS is unquestionably his masterpiece, and a film that has always connected with me resonantly. I'll count it now as this year, and have it tie with Kieslowski's film as the years's best.

    My Own #1 Film of 1994:

    Wild Reeds (Techine; France)
    Red (Kieslowki; France)


    Satantango (Tarr; Hungary)
    Jeanne la Pucelle (Rivette; France)
    The Madness of King George (Hytner; UK)
    Priest (Bird; UK)
    Chungking Express (Kar-Wei; Hong Kong)
    La Reine Margot (Chereau; France)
    Heavenly Creatures (Jackson; New Zealand)
    Crumb (Zwigoff; USA)
    Crows (Kedzierzawska; Poland)
    The Shawshank Redemption (Darabont; USA)
    Enthusiasm (Muratova; Russia)
    Ed Wood (Burton; USA)
    Lion King (Allers, Minkoff; USA)
    Il Postino (Radford; Italy/UK)
    Once Were Warriors (Tamahori; New Zealand)

  4. Sam, great to hear that you're also a fan of this one! I completely share your feelings on everything you say above. It's a grand work and one that I hope only continues to grow in stature.

    Thanks, Sam. Always awesome to have you here!

  5. Jeffrey, Techine is someone whose work I still need to catch up on as well as some of the others you have on your list. My own # 1 pick is Pulp Fiction.

    Best of the rest

    Bullets Over Broadway
    Quiz Show
    Ed Wood
    Blue Sky
    The Last Seduction
    Hoop Dreams
    The Madness of King George
    Nobody's Fool
    Il Postino
    Burnt by the Sun

  6. John, I'll be curious to hear how the Techine film treats you. From your list, I like BULLETS OVER BROADWAY, ED WOOD, THE LAST SEDUCTION, HOOP DREAMS, and BURNT BY THE SUN although all a little less than the ones I mentioned. I need to revisit QUIZ SHOW and IL POSTINO as I struggled a little with both of them the first time I saw them. I still need to see BLUE SKY, THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE, and NOBODY'S FOOL.

    Thanks, John. Always great to hear from you!

  7. Jeffrey - I have seen no Techine films, so I can't comment on your selection. This year is quite easily dominated by PULP FICTION for me, with nothing even coming close. It's becoming a cliche selection now, due to the universal fawning of all things Tarantino, but when I re-watched it for my own countdown I found it just as entertaining as the first time. I still love it.

  8. Dave, I know that I'm definitely in the vast minority when it comes to PULP FICTION! But I absolutely respect your choice.

    Thanks, Dave. I think you'll like this Techine when you get a chance!

  9. Just watched ,What Happened Was.. from this year. Surprised no mentions of it. Has Hartley regular Karen silas as the female lead. I enjoyed it ,felt like a play and upon further reading it was a stage play originally. Found it funny and sad in equal measure. Quite jarmusch like in the awkward pauses.

    1. I definitely need to check that out. Had never even heard of it until you mentioned it.