Portland’s Northwest Film Center is featuring a retrospective of the films of Claire Denis, a French filmmaker with a rich body of work. Tonight at 7 PM, one can see “Nénette et Boni” (France, 1996), the troubling story of marginalized teenagers trying to figure out who they are and dealing with life’s difficulties.
19-year-old Boni (Grégorie Colin), sells pizzas and has lustful fantasies about the baker’s wife, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi. Bonie was close with his mother until her death, but is alienated from his father. Boni hangs around with young criminals, though lives alone in a steamy apartment with a bunny for a companion. He writes about his fantasies about the baker’s wife in his journal, “Confessions of A Wimp.”
For years, Boni has not been in touch with his sister Nénette (Alice Houri). She shows up one day, age 15 and pregnant, and Boni at first is reluctant to get involved in her life. The brother and sister have opposing feelings about her pregnancy, and their differences are not easily resolved.
Director Claire Denis, who was raised in colonial and post-colonial Africa, first pursued economics, but later studied film in France. She then assisted filmmakers Jacques Rivette, Costa-Gravas, Jim Jarmusch, Wim Wenders, and other renowned directors before directing her own films. Denis has collaborated in a number of her films with cinematographer Agnés Godard, musicians Tindersticks, and numerous well-respected actors.
Interesting, she uses a tune of the Beach Boys, “God Only Knows,” in this film in an otherwise silent scene between husband and wife. Denis, in a 2008 interview by Jonathan Romney in Guardian.com.uk, said that “Nénette et Boni” was “completely nourished” by the music of Tindersticks. She also talked about how music at times is a character in a scene. She elaborated:
“It’s true that music is the origin, it opens free space and I trust that. Music gives an opportunity, even if a scene is soundless or there is dialogue with no music, it could be open and created by music. Like a vision, you know, colours. […] it is something that also helps to approach a character, to foresee the type of image.”
“Nénette et Boni” received numerous awards upon its release. At the Lorcano International Film Festival, director Claire Denis received the Golden Leopard Award and a Special Mention Prize of the Ecumenical Jury. Actors Valeria Bruni Tedeschi and Grégoire Colin also received Special Prizes at this festival. Denis also won the Golden Bayard for best Artistic Contribution at the Namur International Festival of French-Speaking Film.
This film and others in the retrospective are presented through May 18 by the Northwest Film Center with the assistance of Delphine Selles-Alvarez and Laura Pertuy of the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York, Denis Bisson and Nora Orallo of the French Embassy in San Francisco, Dean Otto of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and the Alliance Française de Portland. A series pass is $45. Individual tickets range from $6 to $9. Check out the Northwest Film Center’s website for details on this film and others in the series.
Sources: Northwest Film Center website, IMDb website, guardian.com.uk website, Senses of Cinema website