If Beau Travail continues to be one of the most daunting examples of engagement in pure cinema in film history, 35 rhums, next to Claire Denis’ masterpiece, feels like an afterthought. In a good way. Consider it her Broken Flowers to Dead Man: deeply personal, evocative, and engaged, but overly mannered, precise, and visually specific. Indeed, when 35 rhums shoots for the stars, it does so in odd places: at a bar in a rainstorm, in the deep grass on the German coast, and in working class backdrops. If Denis proved anything with Beau Travail, it was her ability to be suggestive with her visual and aural ellipses, allowing more triumphant moments, such as the scenes in discos, thrust themselves at the audience in utter shock, moving the film to new, remarkable heights.
It’s seemingly impossible to not compare each successive Denis film with her greatest work, in part because it was so revealing and cinema is still reacting to it. Perhaps that isn’t fair to 35 rhums, which for all of its faults, namely its reliance on verbal communication to dictate action, is a truly wonderful and uneven film: smoky, slow-burning, and contemplative.