When I was watching Beau Travail, my very first Denis film, one thing that really struck me was the way Denis uses textures and sounds as important components in telling her story. It also helps that Agnes Godard is able to capture textures so gorgeously whether it’s the bodies of French legionnaires as in Beau Travail or pizza dough and pastry as in Nenette et Boni. Maybe the reason I liked this film so much is because there is a lot of that in this movie.
I love the way we are introduced to the main characters in this film. When we are first introduced to Nénette in this movie, we see her floating serenely and blissfully in a pool in an oversized t-shirt until she is instructed by the gym teacher to get out of the pool due to improper attire. It’s the perfect introduction given everything we learn about her afterwards. Similarly, when we first see Boni, we see him swearing over his mother’s grave that he will “have” the baker’s wife after which he proceeds to read out his sexual fantasies from his smutty journal. Think of me what you will but Boni’s sexual fantasies were absolutely the most fun parts of the movie for me. They combine all these slow-motion shots of beautiful decadent pastries after which the camera gradually switches to shots of the baker’s wife leaning over her pastry-case. I couldn’t help smiling at the way the baker’s wife is always clad scantily in pink furry lingerie in Boni’s fantasies and the way Boni imagines her life with the baker as an endless series of sensuous making-out sessions . What is even cooler is the way our own perceptions of the baker’s wife mirror Boni’s views on her. One of my favorite scenes in the film is when Boni bumps into her in the mall and the conversation that ensues. Just by focusing the camera tightly on her face, her movements, her gestures and mannerisms, Denis reveals how ordinary she really is outside of Boni’s fantasies.
But the movie not just all sexual fantasy and Boni goofing around with pizza dough in his pizza van. The real focus of the film is what happens between Nénette and Boni. Denis builds this story brick by brick sometimes connecting the dots through images, sometimes through dialog leaving a lot of it for us to interpret. There are scenes of violence, anger and real palpable tenderness between the two siblings. Some fleeting shots of events from the past that in a flash manage to convey a lot about the memories these people are carrying – enough for us to understand their actions. The film never feels sentimental or condescending towards these characters. Everything about the way these two people communicate and interact with one another feels completely real which really helped me buy into what I admit is a somewhat unrealistic conclusion to the movie.
This movie felt different from all the other Denis films I’ve watched so far. It felt more playful perhaps because of all the fantasy sequences which are really funny. Also, I felt like Denis always maintains a distance from her protagonists in her other films as though she is observing them from the outside but I didn’t feel that here.
Like in Beau Travail, here again there is a really cool musical sequence set to the Beach Boys’ God only Knows. The cast is fantastic all-around. Alice Houri manages to look like a normal teenager and still be strikingly beautiful. It was fun seeing Grégoire Colin again here. Valeria Bruni Tedeschi is perfect as the baker’s wife. Vincent Gallo wears a sailor suit and looks appropriately shady.