TIFF Cinematheque - Claire Denis

07 Oct 2013


Claire Denis is a renowned French director with a huge body of work based on colonial and post-colonial West Africa, as well as issues in modern France.  A French director and writer for more than 25 years, she is also a Professor of Film at a graduate school in Switzerland since the year 2002.

Her break out and first film was CHOCOLAT, an autobiographical film set in colonial Cameroon, Africa.  The film had a successful debut in Cannes and won critical acclaim. TIFF Cinematheque’s retrospective of her films range from CHOCOLAT to her latest LES SALAUDS (BASTARDS), which has been released this year in France.  BASTARDS will be released in Toronto and other major cities.

Her films are lyrical, dark, intense and full of personality.  Never dull, her films pull audiences right into the world of her characters.  Her films often feature her favorite actors such as Gregoire Colin, Michel Subor an Isaac de Bankole.

Denis herself will be making two appearances, October 18th 630pm for BASTARDS and on Thursday, October 176:45 p.m. to present her Carte Blanche selection, a restored 35mm print of Djibril Diop Mambéty’s Touki Bouki (1973), the Senegalese art-house favourite that follows the exhilarating odyssey of two alienated lovers through Dakar.

For complete information or the Denis program, show times, venue and ticket pricing, please check the Cinematheque website at:


Capsule reviews of a few of her films follow:-

BEAU TRAVAIL (France 1999) ***

Directed by Claire Denis


Arguably the most lyrical of all her films, this one has the weakest narrative but strongest passion in her characters.  The theme is the French Legion in which she records the routine of training as see from the point of view of a sergeant (Denis Levant) who has a distaste or a new younger recruit (Gregoire Colin) but respect for his commander (Michel Subor).  No reason is given for this and when the Sergeant warns his superior of his feelings, he gets an admonishment that legionnaires do not discriminate.  With this darkness in the background, Denis shows the men ironing their uniforms to create the perfect crease, in hand-to-hand combat training and doing the obstacle course.  It is a tough life for a legionnaire and the film is at times too, a tough watch for the viewer.

CHOCOLAT (France 1988) ****

Directed by Claire Denis


Claire Denis’ film opens with a young adult, France hitching a ride to Doula in Cameroon.  As she is travelling, France remembers as the film takes the audience back to her childhood as a little girl (Cecile Ducasee) living with her parents in Cameroon.  Her parents Marc and Aimee Dalens (Francois Cluzet ad Giula Boschi) are French governor and wife.  The family home is maintained by a number of Africans, one of which is sexy Protee (Isaach De Bankole) who becomes good friends with France.  But sexual tensions between Protee and France’s mother come to a boil when other white visitors stop by.  This is a story centred on racial tensions.  In fact, the CHOCOLAT of the title is a slang meaning ‘being cheated’, which is the way the Blacks are treated there.  But they hold their own against their white man, also poking fun whenever they can.  CHOCOLAT is Denis’ funniest film, but the humour is largely subtle that can evoke laugh-out laughs when the film is seen a second time.  The segments in which the cook quits on Aimee and the one in which a visitor tries to buy services are particularly worth noting.  The complete folly of colonism is well displayed here.  The film also has added significance as Denis herself lived in colonial Africa as a child with her Governor Father and mother.

NENETTE ET BONI (France 1993) ***

Directed by Clair Denis


Nennette (Alice Houri) and Boni (Gregoire Colin) are separated siblings, the brother living with the mother (now deceased) and the sister with the father.  Things come to a boil when Nenette suddenly runs away from hoe and appears at Boni’s door.  She is pregnant and wants to abort.  Denis examines the love/hate relationship of two not very likable characters with few redeeming qualities.  Even the father (Jacques Nolot) has a questionable incestuous relationship.  But Denis’ film is not without tenderness (Boni and the baby) and humour (Boni kneading pizza dough while thinking of his lover).  A difficult but quietly beautiful film at the same time.

S’EN FOUT LA MORT (France) ***

Directed by Claire Denis


S’E FOUT LA MORT or NO FEAR NO DIE is the name of the champion rooster trained by one of the characters in the movie.  At the film’s start, director Claire Denis quotes “Everyone, no matter what race, creed, religion or ideology is capable of everything.  The film hen centers on the 2 central characters of the film – 2 black immigrants Dah (Isaac de Bankole) and Jocelyn (Alex Decas).  They train roosters in cockfights.  They team up with a sleazy promoter (Jean Claude Brialy) h the seedy suburbs of Paris.  The film traces their monetary success as well as Jocelyn’s downward spiral into drunkenness.   This is no easy film to watch, made more difficult for the fact that the film contains o likeable characters.  The cockfights are exciting and look realistic enough and it is hard to believe that no animals were harmed (as the disclaimer goes at the end of the film) in he making of the film.

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