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Name: Dan Sallitt
Location: New York, New York, United States

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Noir et blanc (Claire Devers)

Claire Devers' first feature, Noir et blanc, won the Camera d'Or in 1986 and attracted the attention of cinephiles. Since then, she has kept a low profile on the international film scene, though she has made several features and TV films; and even her debut is little remembered today.

For years, I would do a double-take every time I'd hear about a Claire Denis screening, hoping for a film from the other Claire D. I'm starting to make my peace with the talented Mlle. Denis, after years of not appreciating her at all - but, having revisited Noir et blanc on VHS last night (thanks to Zach Campbell for the loan of the tape), I'm still baffled at how a filmmaker as assured and expressive as Devers could have vanished from our collective consciousness.

Noir et blanc is not only about the relationship between a black and a white, but it is also shot in black and white (by one Daniel Desbois, with Christopher Doyle also receiving a camera credit). Under cover of the retro choice of film stock, the filmmakers create an odd, dusky lighting plan, starting with washed-out grays on grays, and gradually moving to more abstract images that look as if they were shot in some eternal twilight. Devers' visual style is predominantly calm and naturalistic in the Nouvelle Vague tradition, but she has a taste for crowding the foreground of her frames, Fritz Lang-style, so that space seems to open up behind a foreground figure who is presented with a hint of visual urgency. Her editing is elliptical almost to the point of comedy, and the droll fragmentation of her storytelling goes hand in hand with the reserved, withholding acting around which the movie is constructed.

Though Devers films with attention to ambience, her story (adapted from Tennessee Williams, without credit) is a dark fable, like the subjects that Marco Ferreri favored. The movie starts in digression and slow accumulation, eventually focuses on a sexual obsession that might give pause even to the most libertarian viewers, and follows the concept by logical steps to an unthinkable conclusion.

All the elements of Noir et blanc that I have discussed in isolation are integrated from the first frame with relaxed confidence. Surely a filmmaker of such authority must have done other interesting work - why is her career so submerged?

Noir et blanc was released on videotape in several countries, but not on DVD as far as I can tell; and it looks as if the video is out of print. You can find copies by poking around the Internet, but some of them are expensive.



Blogger Daniel said...

This film, which I've never heard of, sounds great. And skimming the title of your blog entry I thought it was about a Claire DENIS film I had never heard of! I have to try and track this down...

Have you seen any of her other work?

July 17, 2007 12:50 PM  
Blogger Dan Sallitt said...

No. One of her other films, Max et Jeremie (1992), had some American festival screenings, but never near me.

July 17, 2007 2:10 PM  
Blogger David said...

Daniel, could you contact me?
I'm the curator of the Tennessee Williams Festival in Provincetown -- and I would like to use part of your description(credited to you and mentioning the blog) in our catalog.

August 23, 2007 6:32 AM  

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