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NewCityNet Film Tip of the Week

By Ray Pride

DECEMBER 1, 1997:  With her previous feature, "I Can't Sleep," Claire Denis made Paris her own, examining a neighborhood through collisions, disjunctures, overlaps. The narrative was elusive, a solution just beyond grasp, elusive, forever mystifying. But it was never infuriating, merely redolent of how cities work, how neighborhoods function as small towns with their own secret signs and languages. In strictest synopsis, "I Can't Sleep" was a story about a killer in the midst of a Parisian neighborhood. Still, plot was less important than the streets walked (or crept) by the characters. With "Nenette et Boni," Denis goes a step farther. Gregoire Colin, the cat-eyed actor from "Olivier, Olivier," is 19-year-old Boni, a Marseilles pizza maker whose brain is ruled by masturbatory fantasies, mostly of the neighborhood baker's voluptuous blonde wife (Valerie Bruni Tedeschi, all closed-eyed, incisor-baring, heart-melting smiles). His 15-year-old sister, Boni, is trapped in a boarding school where no one realizes she's six months pregnant. Their mother died recently; their father seems to have committed some kind of abuse, if only neglect. There's almost no plot this time out. Denis is content to examine the ripple of Colin's bare shoulders as he fantasizes about the baker's wife, to move without hesitation into the sex dreams as if they were real. She is happy to watch rippling water, light through a window, Boni's rolling out of pizza crust that culminates in tears and his face and fists filled with the sticky dough. Nenette and Boni's distrust -- she tells him that the child's father "does not exist" -- eventually transforms into a bond against the world, and particularly against their father, who owns a lamp store, whom no one calls anything but "Monsieur Luminescence" -- the light. With a father who could be God, they could be Adam and Eve, they could be Jesus and Mary, or two escapees from a Jean Cocteau story. They are also themselves, two teenagers who find no answers in dreams. The blissful mood is aided immeasurably by the score by Tindersticks, mingling simple instrumentals and soul-searching vocals.

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