Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Cold Water (1994)

Olivier Assayas's restless, bristling portrait of youthful disaffection is a real stunner, a 400 Blows for the teenage-angst generation. The key is Assayas's stance, which is empathetic and unusually understanding without lapsing into blind endorsement. Its protagonists are presented as they are without judgment, and they're allowed moments of beauty and grace (the famed party scene, a gorgeously languid setpiece where bodies drift through each other's orbits to the tune of "Knocking on Heaven's Door," exemplifies this), and the color palette is even muted to reflect the dour mindset of its characters. Yet Olivier doesn't let anyone off the hook -- he empathizes, but he also knows that these kids can be emotionally cruel and obnoxiously self-involved ("Few images of suffering move me like this"). The moment that really cinched this film's awesomeness, in my eyes, is a small yet indispensible moment: During a scene where Gilles has an argument with his well-meaning father, Gilles storms out of the room, and his father mumbles, "Little jerk" while his lip quivers ever so slightly. It's the acknowledgement of the parental figures being just as valid as their progeny, a refreshing stance in a genre choked with ineffectual and/or monstrous authorities. There is, of course, also the small matter of the incandescent Virginie Ledoyen. From her first scene (in which she freakin' leaps through a glass door) right down to her last (memorable for, um, other reasons), her presence is riveting. She exhibits talent to burn, and Assayas's distinctive actor-friendly style (somehow both fluid and jagged, filled with ellipses and caesuras without ever feeling incomplete) allows her to shine like a supernova. I'd say she's the best reason to watch Cold Water, but that would imply that most other elements were lacking, which is untrue. This will probably seem even stronger on a second viewing. The last scene is pretty damn close to perfect.

Grade: A-


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