Robert Horton is a Scarecrow board member and a longtime film critic. He will be contributing a series of “critic’s notes” to the Scarecrow blog—a chance to highlight worthy films playing locally and connecting them to the riches of Scarecrow’s collection.
Next Friday (June 29) the Grand Illusion brings back a “restored” version of Cold Water, a 1994 film by Olivier Assayas. If you feel passionate about film, if you feel passionate about French cinema—really, if you feel passionate about anything, you should see this movie. I first saw it at the 1994 New York Film Festival, and its portrait of disaffected youth hit me in my sweet spot. At first I wasn’t sure about it; some of the early sequences plays like fairly typical, if beautifully rendered, material from your standard European youth picture. But when the film shifts its focus halfway through to a massive, out-of-control party, it slips into the kind of zone where you realize you’re in a middle of something, not standing on the sidelines watching.
The reason the film was not given a proper US release at the time apparently had to do with clearing the expensive rights to its mixtape of vintage music. (The story is set in the early 1970s. The songs are fantastic.) The Northwest Film Forum brought it to Seattle in 2006, and the film still looked great then. The current re-release should help Cold Water gain a deserving visibility.
Assayas has been a vital filmmaker all along, with a great deal of variety in his work. I will name a few of my favorites here, all of which are carried by Scarecrow.
Personal Shopper (2016) is a languorous kind of ghost story that erupts into a Hitchcockian suspense exercise at a certain point. It stars Kristen Stewart, who easily carries the film. My full review is here: https://www.heraldnet.com/life/personal-shopper-is-an-intriguing-blend-of-somber-and-suspenseful/
Clouds of Sils Maria (2014). Juliette Binoche as an actress and Kristen Stewart as her personal assistant. It’s hard to describe what’s really going on in the film, as it has less to do with plot than with shifting relationships and the actress’s changeable sense of her place in the world. It is also, mysteriously, about the way things are today.
Something in the Air (2012). Something of a companion piece to Cold Water, as it’s also about young people in the early 70s—in this case, kids trying to navigate the aftermath of May 1968, and looking for something similarly galvanizing in their lives. I go on here: https://www.heraldnet.com/life/1970s-love-art-politics-mesh-well-in-something-in-the-air/
Late August, Early September (1998). This is Assayas in very much the ideal French-movie mode: love, sex, art, people talking in cafes. A superb cast, with Mathieu Amalric, Virginie Ledoyen (she’s in Cold Water, too), Francois Cluzet, Jeanne Balibar, and future director Mia Hansen-Love. I wrote about it for Film Comment magazine, here: https://roberthorton.wordpress.com/2011/09/18/late-august-early-september-the-cornfield-42/
One more link, to a Film Comment interview I did last year with Denis Lenoir, the cinematographer who helped Assayas develop a distinctive style, with some specific conversation about Cold Water.
There are other gems in Assayas’s filmography, including some that would be hard to find if it weren’t for Scarecrow. Get thee there now, and bonne chance.
Robert Horton, the longtime reviewer for the Daily Herald and Seattle Weekly, is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.