Entre La Mer Et L’eau Douce

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The effects of the French New Wave didn't end at the Atlantic Ocean. While Jean-Luc Godard was making his "mature phase" masterpiece Weekend, the Quebecois filmmaker Michel Brault — inspired by the low-cost, on-the-fly techniques of Godard, Francois Truffaut and others — cobbled together a small budget and cast of unknowns to make the strange, entrancing slice-of-life drama Entre La Mer Et L'eau Douce.

Sort of a low-key take on Breathless — with echoes of the scandalous Swedish film I Am Curious (Yellow) — Brault's film is a meandering snapshot of Montreal as it existed in 1967, as seen through the eyes of a rough-and-tumble folk singer from a fishing town who's trying to find work and love (or at least sex) in the big city.

When we first meet twentysomething Claude (the smoldering Claude Gauthier), he's headed to Montreal with his fisherman buddies to try to score with some sophisticated city chicks; the one who really catches his eye, however, is the taciturn, gum-chewing waitress Geneviève (future star Geneviève Bujold). While trying to scare up some decent employment, Claude falls into a gig playing his music on a television show, and, with fame and temptation beckoning, he contemplates cheating on Geneviève.

This being the late '60s, there's plenty of political-philosophical rumbling going on beneath the surface of the film. In many scenes, radio and TV reports apprise us of the burgeoning separatist movement in Quebec, and Claude is often being harassed by crude, English-speaking Canadians who drunkenly say they support his "struggle," while he's trying to mind his own business. If the characters' discussions on politics and infidelity seem a little familiar, that may be because the film was co-written by Denys Arcand, the man responsible for the Oscar-winning talkfest The Barbarian Invasions a few years back.

As searing, late-'60s counterculture statements go, Entre La Mer isn't what you'd expect — it's more of a mellow mood piece than a call to arms. But as an atmospheric time capsule, it succeeds brilliantly. Shooting in black and white, Brault (who is also a renowned cinematographer) loads the film up with cool, stark images and contrasts. He finds plenty of excuses to linger over blindingly white shots of Montreal in the midst of a blizzard, or to freeze on the young Bujold's stunning, vulnerable features.

Sure, much of the film is dated: The notion of a rebel folk singer is almost laughable today, and it's hard to even imagine a time when commitment-phobic young guys spent their days wandering around in suits, talking politics and getting into fistfights. But on the virtue of sheer beauty — both its imagery and stunningly attractive leads —Brault's weird, almost formless movie transcends its era spectacularly.

 

In French with English subtitles. Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-3237), at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 9, and at 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 10-11.

Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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