Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble (1972)

12 03 2010

When an artist is referred to as someone who “wears their feelings on their sleeves” it usually means that their work rather overtly manages to express the sentiment that they intended. However, in Pialat’s case (lame symbolism ahead, warning) he doesn’t wear sleeves in the first place. He’s one of the few directors who is able to be completely transparent when it came to his personal life and the cinematic representations he created. This film, only his second full length feature, is perhaps the most obvious example of this quality. Based on his own highly personal novel, Pialat almost effortlessly balances the ever-delicate relationship between reality and fiction.

It’s important to mention that Pialat’s cinema is not balancing said relationship by playing with one’s idea of what constitutes “film world” and “real world” as Godard did countless times in the 60s. He achieves the balance by being completely transparent (this is in danger of becoming a personal buzz word in describing not just this film, but Pialat’s work in general) and achingly personal. I mean achingly in the most literal way. One has to think that if Pialat showed this film (or the book, I suppose) to any of his close friends, that they would feel enormously uncomfortable. No, it’s not like I haven’t seen an “honest” of “piercing” type of movie before, but there’s something in Pialat’s manner of observation that just encourages the audience to cringe.

I haven’t been keeping up the critical re-evaluation of Pialat in English-speaking countries, but I’m hoping people can begin to drop the “French Cassavetes” description as it as uncreative as it is wrong. On what basis was this claim even developed? The camera shakes? The fact that both make relationship movies? Don’t get me wrong, I love Cassavetes, but try comparing stacking A Woman Under the Influence up to this makes Gena Rowlands look like the most ham-fisted performer of all-time. In trying to think of the difference between the two filmmakers (and there definitely is one, by the way) the first thing that comes to mind is charisma. There’s plenty of it in Cassavetes’ work. Rowlands’ aforementioned performance (which I don’t mean to hate on) has the subtlety of a kabuki performance when compared to the performers in Pialat’s film. While Cassavetes’ film has dramatic action that is on par with a fistfight (literally, towards the ends) where as Pialat, though arguably more violent (literally speaking again) has the gentle observation of someone like Ozu or Leigh.

Unlike Ozu or Leigh, though, is Pialat’s trademark cynicism which shines through the character he based on himself, but is flowing throughout the film’s entire running time. It’s cynicism from a cynic who is too apathetic to proclaim himself as being a part of any movement. It’s something that’s evident not only in Pialat’s film but in his often humorous interviews. There’s a constant conflict between sentiments of indifference and sincerity which are not opposites, but just colliding feelings. In this since, it comes as no surprise that the late Manny Farber was such a big fan of Pialat’s work. While they aren’t operating within the same art form, they both beautifully create brevity in a world that requires clarity in both fiction and analysis.

I suppose it is somewhat ironic then that I feel very unsure of where to begin even talking about this movie. It’s heartbreaking, but not that in the way that builds and builds into a poignant climax but instead something that constantly builds and gets more and more upsetting along the way. There’s a line in the film that serves as a perfect symbol for the experience of watching Pialat’s work. Catherine tells Jean that she loves him less than before, and he asks when this happened. She replies, “It just did, bit by bit.” – a perfect description for the film itself. It pokes at your most sensitive area with an iron and pours salt into your wounds, yes even the ones that were masked by Cassavetes and countless others. In other words, this is absolutely a masterpiece.

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4 responses

12 03 2010
rxy

I love the review (and your previous Fish Tank) and it’s probably my favorite review about Pialat’s work by anyone. I also agree about the balance, Pialat was never trying to be desperate on anything, I don’t think I got into any other director like that before. The “French Cassavetes” thing is ridiculous.

Glad that you love this anyway. Well, in fact, I think I agree with you on Pialat, Ozu, and Naruse more than anyone else. Keep up the great work!

16 03 2010
Stephen

I’m sorry if I’m not commenting on the film here (I haven’t seen it).

I just wanted to ask if you wanted to contribute to a gallery I’m setting up of people’s favourite image in Cinema, or at least one that they find particularly powerful. You can choose whatever you like.

If you could provide a link to a screenshot and perhaps say why you chose it I’d be delighted. I think it would be a cool idea.

Stephen (I’m enjoying reading your pieces – you actually introduced me to Mizoguchi)

16 03 2010
Jake Savage

The soonest I can get back to you is this weekend, Stephen.

As always, thanks for reading.

17 03 2010
Stephen

Thank you Jake.

I look forward to it.

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