Leave No Trace, Directed by Debra Granik


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As in Winter’s Bone, in Leave No Trace director Debra Granik tells a story about isolated people with an ambivalent relationship to the law. Winter’s Bone, featuring fine performances by Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes, shows a hill community riddled with meth but true to its legacy of musicianship and song.

In Leave No Trace, a traumatized war veteran teaches his adolescent daughter how to survive off the grid in the dense forests of the Pacific Northwest. Will (Ben Foster) and Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) forage for food and fuel, share a tent, play chess, and cover their tracks after trips to town to collect his benefits and sell his meds.

The authorities catch wind of their existence and capture and separate them. It is like severing one body in two. They can be reunited only on the conditions that they live in a house and Tom goes to school. Will agrees, only to light out for the territory—with Tom in tow—at the earliest opportunity, depriving his daughter of her first friendship, with a boy who raises rabbits down the road.

Hitching a ride north, they hide out in the woods, where Tom nearly succumbs to hypothermia. One night Will fails to return from a foraging expedition. Tom finds him unconscious under a fallen log and flags down some all-terrain riders for help. They induct father and daughter into an encampment of escapees from society, where Will can heal away from meddlesome doctors. He chafes at even this amount of constraint.

But Tom settles in, joining campfire hootenannies and learning to keep bees. She urges her father to place his hands over the hive to feel the heat arising from the communal activity within. No doubt Will grasps the metaphor.

Once again father and daughter are split apart. This time the division is voluntary, but that only makes it more painful. Will’s love of the wild is predicated on irreparable emotional damage. He can no longer provide the warmth Tom seeks, and she chooses the hive.


Sandra, Directed by Luchino Visconti (1965)


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In reasonable Switzerland, the Jewish Italian heiress Sandra (Claudia Cardinale) shines in local society for her beauty and equanimity. But now she and her new American husband, Andrew (Michael Craig), must motor south into Italy to attend a ceremony to honor her father, who died in a Nazi camp. The closer they come to her ancestral home, the stranger she grows.

Entering the family villa, she argues with Fosca, “la domestica” (Amalia Troiani), tripping over what seems to be a  pointless lie. Leaving her baffled husband in the doorway, she runs into the dark maze of the garden, where she is caught in the arms of her brother, Gianni (Jean Sorel), arriving from London. That night she locks herself in her bedroom against both men. The nearly shuttered villa, the locus of past passion, suffering, and reputed evil, twists the heretofore happy bride to its cursed lineaments.

Gianni, gorgeous and self-obsessed, has written a novel about an affair with his sister. He threatens Sandra with publication, knowing it will be read as a roman à clef, if she will not live with him at the villa and send Andrew away. Everyone in town already assumes the worst of the siblings, who were separated in adolescence for being too close. Even Andrew, the anodyne American who resists innuendo, must at last demand the meaning of a note from Gianni inviting Sandra to a secret tryst. In the confrontation between the spouses, director Visconti maintains the ambiguity: Sandra will not deny an incestuous relationship with her brother and Andrew will not declare blind faith in her innocence. Insisting that suspicion has spoiled the marriage, Sandra sends Andrew away. Score one for Gianni.

The artless American once again confounded by Old World equivocations! Yet Andrew is not so much a naïf as a positivist. Previous to leaving the villa, he has tried to adjudicate another family imbroglio. Sandra believes that a local official, Antonio Gilardini (Renzo Ricci), betrayed her father to the Fascists in order to marry her mother and acquire the family fortune. Not even Gianni is convinced of this plot. Meanwhile, the estate is in question. Andrew does his best to engage the parties in rational deliberations, but only venomous insults fly.

En route back to New York, Andrew leaves Sandra a letter declaring his hope for an eventual reconciliation, if she can leave behind the past: vengeance (perhaps misplaced) for her father’s murder—and Gianni.

Throughout much of the film—in Sandra’s proud refusal to counter rumors about her past, Gianni’s pitiful resort to blackmail in order to possess his sister, Andrew’s reluctance to master his wife, according to the conventions of the place and time–Visconti foregrounds the moral ambivalence of his characters. Ultimately, this strategy heightens the dignity of both Sandra and Andrew, who are stronger than they appear, and even the pathos of Gianni. As the symbol of wartime trauma and emotional regression, the poor little rich boy must be left behind so that a marriage may be resumed—in the New World.

Let the Sunshine In (Un beau soleil intérieur), Directed by Claire Denis


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Let the Sunshine In

Among French actresses, Isabelle Huppert and Juliette Binoche represent two sides of the dramatic coin and director Claire Denis has used them both brilliantly. In Denis’ newest film, Let the Sunshine In, Binoche plays Isabelle, the blooming, eternally optimistic woman whose pupils balloon into hearts at the sight of a man with love potential. Neither politics, looks, class, nor marital status seems to matter to Isabelle in her desperation to slip into a sensuous, joyous affair, a romance worth waking up for in the morning.

Not that Isabelle’s life lacks richness: a successful painter, divorced with an adolescent daughter—seen once, through a car window—she travels with a set of sophisticated, sympathetic friends. She is also beautiful and charming enough to engage a series of five suitors without, seemingly, losing a weekend. Her eager pursuit of happiness, however, is tripped by her intelligence and self-respect, which emerge, somewhat reluctantly, whenever bliss deflates to disappointment.

First in the series of suitors comes the insufferable Vincent (Xavier Beauvois), a married banker who feeds his own ego by humiliating bartenders and insisting that Isabelle reach orgasm before him, turning sex into a reverse contest. Then comes an indecisive actor (Nicolas Duvauchelle), caught in a self-involved spiral of second guesses, whose diffidence or indifference drives Isabelle to tears. Hitting bottom, she trysts with her former husband (Laurent Grévill), but they quarrel mid tryst.

One night at a club she shares a swoon-worthy dance with Sylvain (Paul Blain), a working-class man with a gorgeous, slightly ravaged face. They become lovers, but Isabelle’s art world friends warn against placing her hopes in someone with whom she has so little in common. Against Sylvain’s wishes, she breaks it off, only to make a play for the curator Marc (Alex Descas), who gently suggests that they see what happens when he returns from his travels.

Bemused at last, Isabelle consults a medium (Gérard Depardieu)—who enters his session with Isabelle wondering how he could have kidded himself that his pretty girlfriend (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) would stick around. The blind leading the blind. He gives Isabelle hope, however, that something momentous will happen if she will only stay “open.” Isabelle is plenty open, but perhaps the point is that he gives her hope—and is rewarded with full-on Binoche radiance.

Claire Denis has shown herself to be a great lover of men, sometimes at the expense of women, in film after film—a career that parallels the trajectory of her protagonist Isabelle. Thus it is unsurprising that this female character spends scant emotional energy on relationships with other females, including her daughter—none of Denis’ heroines do. What is surprising is that Denis allows Isabelle to turn her back on the soulful, affectionate, and virile Sylvain—another dig, maybe unconscious, at the privileged women who toy with working-class men, often black, in such films as Chocolat, No Fear, No Die, and Friday Night. Then there is Trouble Every Day, in which an African scientist cannot make love with his white wife without arousing her desire to eat him alive–literally. Let the Sunshine In‘s Isabelle does not devour men, but like Denis’ vampire wife, she is addicted to their sweet flesh.

The Insult (2017), Directed by Ziad Doueiri


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The Insult 1Is there any more manipulative film genre than the courtroom drama? As the counsels plead their clients’ cases—deploying reasoned arguments, subliminal appeals, ironic reversals, scathing sarcasm, and shock tactics—sympathies in the courtroom and in the theater shuttlecock to and fro with every swing of the rhetorical racket. The tension mounts excruciatingly until the catastrophe, the announcement of the judge’s verdict, when the outcome of the conflict becomes irreversible and is met with an outpouring of emotion.

The Insult 2The Insult (2017), directed by Ziad Doueiri, delivers a masterful example of the genre. The lawsuit is ignited by an absurd incident when a Lebanese Christian, Tony Hanna (Adel Karam), while watering plants on his balcony, sprays the foreman of a city work crew, the Palestinian Yasser Abdallah Salameh (Kamel El Basha), who is standing below. It is understood at once that the two men recognize each other as belonging on opposite sides of an entrenched conflict that will freight whatever personal confrontation ensues—that, indeed, the violence and loss each has endured as the result of the larger conflict has primed him to explode at the slightest provocation. What is more, they are straight men, the human type that loves a good fight and perceives an apology as a defeat.

These facts do not make them devoid of decency or affection. Even as they trade aggressions and the situation escalates from a smashed drainpipe to the eponymous insult to hate speech to broken ribs, each man continues to earn a living, Tony at his garage and Yasser at the work site, surrounded by fellow laborers who like and respect them. Each goes home to a loving wife, Tony to the pregnant Shirine (Rita Hayek) and the older Yasser to Manal (Christine Choueiri). While unimpeachably loyal, these women, along with Yasser’s boss, Talal (Talal Jurdi), point out to the antagonists that neither is without fault and plead with them to resolve their differences before they do more damage.

But Tony takes Yasser to court, and once the lawyers begin their arguments, the conflict rockets beyond the private sphere, inflaming feelings among the public. (Symbolizing the depth of civil strife, which is to some extent generational as well as cultural, the opposing counsels, played by Camille Salameh and Diamand Bou Abboud, are father and daughter.) Just like Tony and Yasser, everyone in Beirut has a wound ready to open. Tony’s family receives threats, Yasser is fired, an innocent moped rider is mistaken for a foe and harried into an accident, partisans brawl in the courtroom and the streets. As the trial proceeds, the counsels reveal more and more of the atrocities, the massacres, the internments, that Christians and Palestinians have inflicted on each other. How possibly can Judge Colette Mansour (Julia Kassar) arrive at a just verdict, when the case comes to represent the entirety of modern Lebanese history? How can she isolate “the insult”?

Phantom Thread (2017), Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson


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Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread investigates the figure of the man of genius and his counterpart, the eternal woman, in a drama worthy of Ibsen. (In fact one of its stars, Lesley Manville as the great artist’s sister, Cyril, played in the 2014 London stage production of Ibsen’s Ghosts).

Following the second world war, British couturier Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) dresses the crowned heads of Europe. His gloriously old-fashioned designs feature luxurious fabrics and detailed constructions, assembled by a devoted and highly-skilled flock of seamstresses. The creation of a beautiful costume is to him worth any sacrifice on the part of his household, including Cyril and his mistress of the day. They are not to annoy him with small talk at breakfast nor to cook his asparagus in butter, which he interprets almost as an act of spite, when they have been told he prefers oil.

An avid lover of divine form, Reynolds is enchanted by Alma (Vicky Krieps), a tall, lithe waitress at a country inn. The foreign Alma, with her enjoyment of cooking, hiking, and dancing, her supernatural beliefs, and her knowledge of natural “remedies,” is a sort of Nordic witch in empiricist England. She is also his ideal type. Reynolds is rejuvenated through his joy of making clothes for her.

When she moves into the house shared by Reynolds and Cyril, who manages the Woodcock brand, Alma is subjected to the usual regime, reproved by Reynolds for noisily buttering her toast. Unlike previous mistresses intimidated by his disdain, Alma keeps on buttering until he exits in a snit. Advised by Cyril henceforth to take breakfast in her room, Alma says firmly, “He is being too fussy.”

Not that Alma is indifferent: she is passionately, almost insanely in love with Reynolds, and her loyalty to him, his talent, and his legacy is absolute. She insists that they are mystically conjoined for all time, and she can coolly peel a Woodcock dress off the comatose body of a drunken bride rather than see the dress disgraced.

Her reward is his preference for her above all others, and when this is obscured in his frequent lapses into cruel narcissism, Alma, the Ur-female, creator and destroyer, finds she must reduce him to a state of infantile dependence with a dose of poison mushrooms. Sure enough, after lingering near death, he recovers with a sense of rebirth and renewed adoration of her. He even grows complicit in what will become a recurring ritual in their life together.

Cyril Woodcock functions in the story as a sort of chorus. At first the chief collaborator in the mad worship of the male and protector of his genius at any cost, Cyril watches Alma resist Reynolds’ attempts to demean and dismiss her. She comes to admire Alma and happily passes off to her the management of Reynolds’ ego. True, Cyril is alarmed by the first mushroom episode, but ultimately joins in the dismantling of her brother’s myth of his own power over the house of Woodcock. As Alma says, sometimes “he needs to be taken down a little.”


“The Beguiled,” Directed by Sofia Coppola


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The needle is mightier than the gun, at least in the hands of Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman), headmistress of a girls’ school in the Civil War South. With the Union army encroaching on the roads and woods, it is too dangerous now for the girls and their teacher, Miss Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), to be sent home. In these anxious circumstances, Miss Martha finds it best to maintain the daily routine of studies, etiquette lessons, mushroom gathering, and embroidery. But the forced passivity of their situation strains the nerves of the school’s inhabitants and the saucy student Alicia (Elle Fanning), in particular, seems primed for mischief.

Mischief arrives, in the form of Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell), a deserter from the Union army, who is found hiding near the school with a badly wounded leg. The girls beg Miss Martha not to betray this fascinating creature and she squares it with herself to let him heal before alerting the authorities. She neatly sutures that nasty gash and soon McBurney is hobbling about the mansion, insinuating himself into everybody’s affections, especially those of the lonely and discontented Miss Edwina, against the day when his fate must be decided.

So long as he is an invalid, heavily in her debt, and in Confederate territory—in essence, her captive—Miss Martha wagers that the threat the Corporal represents as an enemy soldier and a man among restless virgins is neutralized. He is cognizant of this humiliating dynamic but keeps his cool for a time, encouraging any woman or girl he can collar to believe she is his favorite. Who knows which will be most useful when the chance for escape presents itself? Meanwhile, the females blushingly unearth their pearl earrings and lace trimmings under each other’s sardonic eyes. All the mortifications of heterosexuality.

At last McBurney overplays his hand and is discovered by Miss Edwina while bedding Alicia. In the ensuing commotion, Edwina repels him with a shove, Alicia screams, and Miss Martha comes running. McBurney lies comatose on the landing below, his stitches ripped open. Gangrene threatens. The headmistress grabs a saw and amputates the leg to save the life.

Seemingly at odds with each other, how the females have foiled the Corporal’s plans to divide and conquer them! How fate or the machinations of the female unconscious have advanced their solidarity with a staircase and an imminent infection!

But the containment of male aggression is never done. Awakening with a roar, the gelded lion seizes Miss Martha’s gun and manifests the rage against women he has barely glossed with charm. And so Miss Martha, too, must drop her Florence Nightingale guise and face the danger she has loosed on her charges—a danger which now threatens, not just their integrity, but their lives. This is war.

John McBurney’s lust ripped through the headmistress’s handiwork—once. But when an entire household of females plies its needles to make a shroud, there is no opening the seam. One stitch is a fragile thing, but a thousand stitches can bind chaos.

“Call Me by Your Name,” Directed by Luca Guadagnino


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This is the story of a sentimental journey, in which the youth Elio (Timothée Chalamet) is tutored into adulthood by his  lover, Oliver (Armie Hammer), and no less by his parents, the Perlmans (Amira Casar and Michael Stuhlbarg).

During a long summer vacation at his family villa in Italy, Elio labors at the piano and music composition, while toying with his smitten friend, Marzia (Esther Garrel). Along comes Oliver, an American graduate student in archeology, to be Dr. Perlman’s summer assistant in his research on Roman relics, in particular sculptures of beautiful young men who seem to be “daring you to desire them.”

Elio dares to desire Oliver. For a time Oliver resists, citing vague scruples (about homosexuality? About romancing his boss’s son? About Elio’s youth?). At last, they fall into each other’s arms and into the particular kind of love that maybe only men can sustain together—athletic, competitive, mischievous, passionate, inexhaustible. The classical world is resurrected—the world that Dr. Perlman, as he later confesses to his son, has been able to embrace only as an academic, too fearful to undertake the chaotic emotions in which Elio is swimming.

But in true classical fashion, the Perlmans have created an environment in which those emotions can swirl in comparative safety, while insisting on Elio’s social refinement, so that in adulthood he can carry on their legacy of a good life nurtured by tolerance, affection, and generosity. When a friend gives you a shirt, you wear it when they come for dinner, even if it doesn’t suit you. If friends and family ask you to play the piano, you comply, even if you are tired, because their happiness makes your happiness.

Elio is absorbing this lesson, but imperfectly. He and Oliver have reached a stage of mutual absorption at which they confuse, disappoint, and hurt their sometime girlfriends, Marzia and Chiara (Victoire Du Bois), with impunity. Or not quite impunity, for everyone sees it, and Elio’s mother, Annella, gently reaches out to the girls.

Although Call Me by Your Name foregrounds the experience of men, the influence of women in crafting a social realm in which relationships are cultivated and other people’s feelings are important is nonetheless made manifest. It is Annella whom Elio calls to fetch him from the city where he says goodbye to Oliver, who is returning to America. And when Oliver’s Hanukah phone call reopens the wound of loss, it is Annella who finally recalls the grieving Elio to the family table.



Toni Erdmann, Directed with an Original Screenplay by Maren Ade


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toni-inesWho is one’s authentic self? The more one considers the influence of language and social customs, the knottier the question becomes. But middle-aged prankster Winfried (Peter Simonischek) slips this philosophical knot. He wishes only to goad his uptight daughter, Ines (Sandra Hüller), through relentless, embarrassing hijinks, toward adopting a happier, more attentive self.

When Winifried, a grammar-school music teacher, attends a dinner at his ex-wife’s home to see their daughter, a rising star in a powerful consulting company, he barely has an opportunity to speak with her between her urgent phone calls with business associates.

Soon she returns to the backwater of Bucharest, where she sweats to land a deal with a local oil company that will earn her a transfer to a more glamorous post. The bargain: her company will take the opprobrium for outsourcing most of the company’s labor (leaving the locals desperate) in return for a contract.

Uninvited, Winifried visits her in her elegant apartment, overlooking a Romanian favela. A lumbering idealist failure in his daughter’s eyes, he cannot convince her that her striving for success within the pecking order of global capitalism is making her miserable. Hers is a serious case, and calls for stronger measures.

Enter “Toni Erdmann,” Winifried’s alter ego, in false choppers and a shoulder-length wig, dogging his daughter’s steps at meetings, networking events, and receptions and introducing himself as a celebrity life coach (or, alternately, as the German ambassador to Romania) to her puzzled and fascinated friends, colleagues, and clients. As she grovels before bigwigs, her father becomes the witness of her humiliation.

Acting as a comically grotesque mirror for her alienation, Winifried uses his kook disguise to persuade Ines to doff her corporate drag. She does not do so without a fight; even in amorous play with her lover (Trystan Pütter), she remains fully clothed. And when she bloodies her blouse while puncturing a blister in order to cram an injured foot into pumps, she swaps tops with her aspiring assistant (Ingrid Bisu) rather than wear this stigmata of her humanity into the boardroom.

Director Maren Ade is too sophisticated to imply that if Ines just got naked, she would become the adult version of the winsome little girl who learned to ride a bike from her dad. So when, between the pressures of her father’s love and the expectations of her profession, Ines does finally crack, hosting a “naked party,” no one knows what to do with their nudity except to carry their gift bags strategically. “Toni Erdmann” chooses to crash this party in his most outlandish disguise yet.

Ines cannot get back to the garden, but she does come home to Germany, at least temporarily, to help her father pack up the house of her grandmother, who has died. While they are goofing around on the patio—Ines making a gallant effort—Winifried goes to fetch his camera, supposedly, leaving her suspended between roles, wearing a funny hat and false teeth, listening for the sound of his return. Or just listening.

Julieta, Directed by Pedro Almodóvar


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Two actresses play the title role in Pedro Almodóvar’s Julieta, one before and one after the central catastrophe in the eponymous heroine’s life.

Beginning the tale in medias res, Emma Suárez plays Julieta as a survivor of personal tragedies, attempting to rebuild her life with her attentive lover, Lorenzo (Darío Grandinetti). Meeting an old acquaintance on the street in Madrid, she is jolted into a remembrance of the past and its defeats.

In the extended flashback that follows, Adriana Ugarte plays Julieta as a young literature teacher who meets a handsome fisherman, Xoan (Daniel Grao), while traveling on a train. Brought together by the shocking suicide of a fellow passenger, the two make love, then continue to their separate destinations.

Not long after, Xoan writes to Julieta. Pregnant with his child, she arrives in his village to find that his wife, who has been in a coma, has just died. Julieta and Xoan form a joyous union under the jealous eyes of the housekeeper, Marian (Rossy de Palma), a Mrs. Danvers type who disapproves of her modern new mistress. Marian becomes devoted, however, to the couple’s daughter, Antia (Priscilla Delgado), who grows into a lissome adolescent occupied with shooting hoops with her best friend, Beatriz (Sara Jiménez).

One day while Antia is at summer camp, Marian reveals to Julieta that Xoan has slept with a former lover while living with Julieta, and Julieta and Xoan quarrel. Before they can make up, he goes out in his boat, is caught in a storm, and drowns.

Julieta returns to Madrid, where she is cared for by Antia and Beatriz. It is here that the unblemished Adriana Ugarte is replaced in the title role by Emma Suárez, Julieta aged and unstrung by loss.

But Julieta’s misfortunes are not at an end. Antia disappears, severing all ties with her mother. Her actions are mysterious, possibly a reaction to Marian’s telling her of mother’s role in her father’s death. Or perhaps Antia is impelled by other, barely traceable, sources of guilt and desperation.

Unable to recapture her daughter, Julieta gradually mends—until the chance encounter years later on the street in Madrid. The long-lost acquaintance she meets—twice, in fact—is the grown-up Beatriz (Michelle Jenner), the great friend of Antia’s youth. In their conversations, Beatriz reveals that, in the course of a love affair between them, Antia had become consumed with a fanatical spirituality that drove them apart.

Julieta once more descends into depression, giving up her relationship with Lorenzo to wander dazed about the city. Watching protectively from a distance, he is able to save her when she steps in front of a moving car.

Antia, the progeny of free spirits, seems to be her mother’s opposite, cold and unbending—the perfect weapon to wound the grieving Julieta. But a subplot indicates that she is in fact her mother’s daughter. For years, Julieta has snubbed her own father for forming a lasting liaison with his maid while his bedridden wife was still alive.

The source materials for Julieta are three stories—not one—by Alice Munro. As a result of being a mélange, the film’s plot is propelled by collisions, coincidences, impulses, and reversals that are often outside the characters’ conscious control. The director seems to have left these rough edges in his collage to create texture and openings for interpretation. What is the significance, for example, of the majestic stag loping beside the train on the night that Julieta and Xoan meet? How is it that Julieta and Ava, Xoan’s former mistress, reconcile and become fast friends? And how fascinating that the adult Antia, whose defection plays such an important role in Julieta’s life, is represented only in snippets of dialog by her former lover, Beatriz. In spite of this very lifelike portrayal of ambiguous motivations (for human beings rarely act for a single reason alone), guided by Almodóvar’s humanism, these characters’ drama must finally revolve toward forgiveness and reconciliation.

Being 17, Directed by André Téchiné


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The director André Téchiné, now in his 70s, makes wondrous films about young people. In Wild Reeds, a band of friends sort through unrequited love, sexual awakening, and clashing attitudes inherited from their parents toward the Algerian revolution. In Being 17, Téchiné tells a similarly nuanced story about young people trying to gather the strands of their identities.

His two teenage protagonists, Damien (Kacey Mottet Klein) and Thomas (Corentin Fila), live in the French mountains, one among the peaks and one in the town below. Damien, the city mouse, lives with his mother, Marianne (Sandrine Kiberlain), a doctor; his father is a military pilot serving overseas, possibly in Afghanistan. When the three of them Skype together, their mutual affection is clear. Though temporarily separated, they are a happy family, and Damien’s nascent gay identity is not an issue.

The family dynamic of Thomas, the country mouse, is more complex. He and his parents farm livestock and produce. Does his father, Jacques, seem a little less attuned to his son than Damien’s dad because of differences in parenting norms between urban and rural families? Or because Thomas is adopted? Hard to tell. What is certain is that Thomas fears that the imminent birth of a child to his mother, Christine, will underscore his adopted status.

The boys’ first encounter is in the classroom in town, when Thomas trips Damien on his way to his seat after reciting a Symboliste poem. He later claims that he did it because he finds Damien pretentious, but there are other reasons, as well. The two of them are the last to be picked for sports teams, Damien because he is slight and Thomas because he is an unknown quantity, a relative stranger who hikes and buses down the mountain each day to attend school and immediately returns to his farming chores when the school day is done. Thomas, who is both virile and unsophisticated, no doubt resents being associated with the less athletic Damien.

While the film is closer to Damien and Marianne, who richly enjoy each other’s company, eating and chatting together with genuine affinity, it does not stint Thomas’ life on the little farm surrounded by forest. His fascination with nature—he stalks bear and swims naked in a winter lake, alone, in secret, at night—is his equivalent of Damien’s Symboliste poem. That Thomas is black adds to his uniqueness in this alpine idyll, but is never problematized, to Téchiné’s credit.

The boys are forced together when Marianne becomes Christine’s doctor and places her in a nursing home in order to preserve the pregnancy. She insists that Thomas come to live with Damien and her in town until the baby is born. In essence, Thomas is adopted again, and this time it is the biological child, Damien, who is threatened, even as he begins to fall in love with his rival.

Enemies, brothers, lovers, friends consoling each other for losses and absences, in bed or boxing in a field, Damien and Thomas grapple each other like creatures being born.