Thoughtful reviews, the Boulder film scene

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Note: This summer will see the rerelease of Betty Blue (the three-hour director’s cut, no less) from director Jean-Jacques Beineix (Diva). This winter will see a DVD release of The Jean-Jacques Beineix collection featuring six of his lesser-known films. Return to Movie Habit each week this summer as Marty Mapes reviews another film in the series.

The sophomore feature of director Jean-Jacques Beineix (after his international hit Diva) is The Moon in the Gutter. Of his early films, it is probably the least interesting and most taxing. It’s big — it has a notable cast, a long running time, and a strong sense of atmosphere — but the story doesn’t stay focused enough to deserve all the effort.


Gerard and his stepmother live in a sticky situation
Gerard and his stepmother live in a sticky situation

A woman lies dead in a gutter. Her brother Gerard (Gerard Depardieu) broods about it. She used his straight razor to kill herself. She had been raped.

Gerard lives with his father in a cheap house with his stepmother and his girlfriend. At a bar he meets Loretta (Nastassja Kinski), the woman with the red car who might sweep Gerard away from his girlfriend. One day Loretta follows Gerard to work, which gets him in trouble with his boss. Loretta makes up for it by offering to marry him, which naturally angers his girlfriend, who hires someone to kill him. The attempt fails, and he confronts her. She says she was only helping Gerard’s brother (Dominique Pinon). There is a fight and maybe a reconciliation. There isn’t much of a climax or a finale, just an ending.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect to this whole soap opera is that it’s impossible to tell why people act the way they do. Perhaps boredom and summer heat explain it all. At every turn of the plot, it seems that nobody has a better reason for action than just going with the flow. Loretta turns every head in the bar but chooses Gerard. Gerard lets this strange woman woo him even though he doesn’t seem particularly horny or lonely. The hit-man subplot comes from out of the blue.

It’s possible there’s a dramatic point somewhere in all the ennui and mysterious motives. It’s possible the film lost something on video or in the translation. More likely, Beineix’s vision, assuming there was one, didn’t translate well to the screen.

Hot Tin Streetcar

Give credit where it’s due, The Moon in the Gutter is a torrid, steamy, Tennessee Williams-esque story of an ugly love triangle. The lighting and sets contribute to the film’s atmosphere — characters slouch and sweat and fan themselves under red and green night. The sets are often stagey, especially Gerard’s front yard and the alley where his sister was killed. These add to the languid feel of the film.

But there’s also that fight where Gerard defends himself from the hit man in a set that looks like it was left over from a bad Bruce Lee movie. Or the model of the castle on the hill with the toy car driving up to it. These too are expressionistic flourishes, but I can’t see how the fit in — are they mistakes that were meant to look better than they do, or are they intentionally low-tech? In any case, they detract from the focus of the film. Or maybe the film isn’t supposed to have a focus. Perhaps that’s part of the problem.

The Moon in the Gutter is long, slow, torpid slog. If only it had the simmer and boil of Betty Blue the heat might have been more bearable.