35 Shots of Rum
Can we go for that drink now?

Theatrical Release Date: 12/25/2009
Director: Claire Denis
Cast: Alex Descas, Mati Diop, Nicole Dogué, Grégoire Colin, Jean-Christophe Folly

Opening in limited release is director Claire Denis’ latest film, “35 Shots of Rum”. The story of a father’s trouble coping with his daughter’s growing sense of independence, which would also mean leaving him alone, the film takes audiences on a metaphoric and literal train ride through their relationship, as well as the connection they share with their neighbors and the father’s co-workers.

The approach that Denis took to the film was to run the audience through rather mundane events but to highlight the emotions that are stirred up in each of the cast throughout. To that end, the two lead actors do a beautiful job. Alex Descas, a devoted father and long-time commuter train conductor, sees that his time isn’t infinite – both at work and at home. He has to find a way to let go of his daughter (Mati Diop) without completely letting go of everything else, which is difficult to do when you’re entire life is built around that relationship.

Diop feels a sense of obligation to taking care of her father but is truly beginning to hear the call of a life on her own. She portrays this struggle sincerely and although the focus of the film is perhaps more on Descas’ role, Diop is the beating heart underneath that keeps the story running.

The two main supporting cast (Nicole Dogué and Grégoire Colin) help to expand our view of the Descas and Diop – to see that they have options in their lives that aren’t fully being explored because of the nature of how their family unit goes about life at this point. It is these interactions which stand out because so often, Denis depicts the father/daughter relationship in scenes with very little dialogue and while their non-verbal actions speak volumes, it doesn’t help with the slower pacing of the film.

One of the things I wondered going into the film was how the title would be a factor in the overall result. There is an explanation of why anyone would drink 35 shots of rum … and that explanation is beautiful in a poetic sense. However, there was a conversation early in the film about a story being behind the “tradition” but when that it turns out to be more of a symbolic act than anything else, I’m left feeling a little wanting.

Foreign film fans will enjoy Denis’ latest effort, especially those who are familiar with her previous work. However, the film’s pace and lack of traditional plot structure will probably turn off the mainstream. My biggest concern was the lack of conflict. While there are moments when characters are at odds, none of the disagreements have that sense of weight or urgency that seem to call for a life change. If that’s not a problem for you, then by all means give this a shot. However, because I could never fully engage in the portrayal of the everyday activities of this father and daughter, the pacing took its toll on me and I’ll have to give “35 Shots of Rum” a 3 out of 5.