The Early Films Of Olivier Assayas (Cert 15)
1 Disc Blu-ray (Distributor: Arrow Academy) Running Time: 91 minutes approx. / 84 minutes approx.
Many film fans might only know Olivier Assayas from recent Hollywood films Clouds of Sils Maria and Personal Shopper, while cineastes will refer to the two films made with his ex-wife, Hong Kong legend Maggie Cheung, Irma Vep (1996) and Clean (2004). In fact, Assayas has been making films for over 30 years, and Arrow Academy brings two of his earlier films to the UK for the first time.
Formerly a critic for the venerated Cahiers du Cinéma magazine and the son of famed screenwriter Raymond Assayas, recognisable under his non-de plume Jacques Rémy, working in cinema seemed a natural path for Assayas. In recent years, he has helped nurture the career of (another) former flame Mia Hansen-Løve but this release takes us back to the beginning.
Disorder from 1986, said to have been inspired by the band Joy Division, begins with two musicians, Yves (Wadeck Stanczak) and Henri (Lucas Belvaux), with their shared girlfriend Anne (Ann-Gisel Glass) breaking in to a music shop at night to steal some instruments. However, the shop wasn’t empty and when confronted by the owner, Yves and Henri kill him and the trio flee in a panic.
Frightened of being caught, the decide to keep this from the rest of the band, drummer Xavier (Rémi Martin) and keyboardist Gabriel (Simon de La Brosse), as their manager Albertini (Etienne Chicot) has a crucial gig lined up in London and possible record deal. But with tensions within the band already tense, the pressure is on everyone to keep it together, with the secret hanging over the trio threatening to tear them apart.
His first feature as director Assays delivers a typically French film in exploring the bad decisions made by unlikeable people who refuse to take responsibility for their actions. In trying to live a bohemian post-punk lifestyle, the band deludes themselves through solipsistic thinking that they are edgy mavericks, when the reality is Gabriel’s father is funding their dreams.
There are two love triangles in this tale, the other being Xavier and Gabriel both being in love with Cécile (Juliette Mailhe) although she only loves Gabriel, so this is destined to fail like the Yvan-Anne-Henri ménages a trois, which might be a mutual arrangement but Anne finds it’s a struggle to maintain. A cruel twist of fate arrives when Yvan hooks up with photographer Cora (Corinne Dacla) beginning his downward spiral towards tragedy.
Assayas was still finding his voice as a director and while the influence of his New Wave heroes like Robert Bresson is palpable, there is a trenchant urgency in his work, from the violence of the opening scene to the nihilism of the cast when their personal lives fall apart. The characters do a lot of running away instead of facing their issues which hurts them more, which Assayas captures the irony of while using the fickleness of the music industry to parallel these complex relationships.
Most of the cast only had a few films to their credit, and whilst not the most credible musical performers (Henri’s faux guitar playing is abysmal) they harness the energy and angst of the trouble personalities. Wadeck Stanczak is wonderfully incendiary as Yvan, whose tightly wound persona is the yin to Ann-Gisel Glass’s easily bruised and easily led Yang as Anne. A good first effort overall for Assayas.
The second film is Winter’s Child from 1989. Natalia (Marie Matheron) is due to give birth imminently but her partner, architect Stéphane (Michel Feller), decides he doesn’t want to be a father and leaves her. Stéphane instead has his sights on Sabine (Clotilde de Bayser), a set designer for a theatre troupe, currently in a relationship with actor Bruno (Jean-Philippe Écoffey).
Unable to take Sabine’s possessive volatile behaviour, Bruno ends things with Sabine so she hooks up with Stéphane on the rebound yet still yearns for Bruno. Meanwhile Natalia tries to commit suicide but is saved by her friend Leni (Nathalie Richard) assuming the role of protector against Stéphane. When Stéphane’s relationship with his father (Gérard Blain) deteriorates, he starts to wonder about his newborn son but he still has Sabine to deal with.
More complicated love lives are on display here but far worse than in Disorder and much bleaker too. It’s a shorter film but much slower, thus it feels longer, missing the dynamic pace of its predecessor. If the cast of Disorder were hard to like this lot are hateable, especially Stéphane, a selfish prig who thinks he is entitled to have his cake and shag it, realised with sufficient smugness by Michel Feller.
In many ways he gets his just desserts hooking up with Sabine, a woman whose idea of showing her love is cutting someone’s throat with a pair of scissors. Since neither he or Sabine love each other Stéphane might be lucky but judging how Sabine handled being rejected by Bruno, he might want to choose his timing carefully if he leaves her too.
Natalia is the de facto victim of this tale, or rather her baby is, and the easiest person to sympathise with but her remains a rather simpering door mat for everyone, not just Stéphane but her friends, family and later on, new partner too. Marie Matheron does a fine job in making the audience invest in her, usually letting a single tear say more than the verbose script.
Winter’s Child is a gnarly, distant, and uncomfortable cautionary tale of the caprice that comes with lust and the reverberations felt by everyone when the lying to oneself stops. Assayas is noticeably more comfortable in the director’s chair and bolder in his narrative but his award winning identity is still a few steps away at this point. But what stands out in both films is how much he values performances and the feelings they engender.
This nice looking HD release serves as great introduction to the formative years of Assayas for long time fans and those who missed out first time around.
French 1.0 Stereo
Winter’s Child Trailer
First Pressing only: Illustrated Collector’s Booklet
Rating – ****
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