Late August, Early September (1998)

5 06 2008

Easily Assayas’ most emotional accessible film but probably one of his least accomplished as well. For once he finally centers his focus is on people and their relationships with no genre “subverting” or pandering to confine himself. On the other hand, it lacks the technical confidence of his later films. While he does seem to be doing the handheld tracking stuff quite well, it is nowhere near as seamless as it is in, say Clean. In addition, this does come quite close to being cliche French coffee-talk cinema. A problem subdued thanks mostly to a wonderful cast. While Assayas had yet to develop some of his better tendencies, he also had yet to develop some of his lesser ones. A mixed experience, but one that is undoubtedly from Assayas’ mind.

Gabriel, an aspiring novelist, is transitioning from one relationship to another. He and his presumed ex-girlfriend, Jeanne, are selling their apartment. In the mean time, he and Anne are discussing the concept of getting their own apartment together but Gabriel feels he needs some time alone. This doesn’t happen, though, as his friend Adrien falls ill. They discuss and meditate on the state of their relationships, as well as the inevitability of becoming middle age. As Adrien’s health lays in a balance, Gabriel begins to reevaluate the state of things to try to prevent himself from losing what he really wants.

All the characters here seem a bit too conscious of their place in society, which may or may not have been Assayas’ intention. Though they all appear smart, witty, and well-read, they are also terribly misguided, not to mention very confused. Perhaps it is a sad irony, a critique on Assayas’ part, on how silly some of the people that fall into this super-chatty crowd can be. Make no mistake, though, this is no condescending misanthropic look at the world but rather a very warm and perceptive look at a small group of people. It probably helps a great deal that the film boasts one of the best cast ever assembled in recent history. Once again, Jeanne Balibar is completely captivating, even if her screen time is somewhat limited. Mathieu Amalric probably plays this type of a role a bit too much (someone generally out-of-touch with the world) but he’s great as always.

The film’s only major drawback is the fact that the grainy film stock doesn’t particularly compliment the usual Assayas style. Perhaps budget restrictions left limited options but it is hard not to think that this film wasn’t suppose to look so grainy, even though Assayas himself has said otherwise in interviews. He is still very confident with the camera using the usual long handheld take aesthetic that has become somewhat of his own. It’s really quite a shame that this there isn’t more of his earlier films out on DVD because one can’t help but be interested in seeing the man’s complete line of progression. Even if this isn’t up to par with Assayas’ usual cinematic beauty, it does have a humanistic edge that tends to be lacking in his cleaner (no pun intended) efforts.

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