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France, 1990 (MIFF 2000, Written on the Skin – The Films of Claire Denis)

Director: Claire Denis

One of Denis' most controversial films, this study of Parisian cock-fight handlers alienated some viewers with its unflinching (and clearly well-researched) depiction of a vicious sport; nevertheless, it remans an engrossing and challenging work. Two West African brothers, Dah and Jocelyn, make a living buying and training birds to compete in the pit. As both siblings and outsiders, their fates are entwined: temperamentally, however, the pair could not be more different: Dah is pragmatic, a businessman, while Jocelyn is possessed of an almost monastic devotion to the creatures he trains.

Recruited by Ardennes, a restaurateur who wants to open up his own 'ring', the brothers set about selecting animals, unaware of the catastrophe that lies ahead. The mood throughout is appropriately seedy and claustrophobic, and the actual fight sequences discomfitingly graphic (though a note during the end credits insists that no animals were harmed during the making of the film). Yet for all its disturbing surface, the film is essentially a study in alienation, as Joselyn—a noble man in a debased world—gradually forfeits his passion, his manhood, and finally his race itself, when he succumbs to the erotic lure of Ardennes' wife (Solveig Dommartin), a relationship that ultimately destroys him.

See also...


While virtually all of Denis' films have tacitly addressed the issue of family. this - her fifth narrative feature - confronts the subject explicitly. Boniface (Gregoire Colin) is a 19-year-old pizza ... More »


Though ostensibly based on a true story-of the 'Granny Killer' Thierry Paufin, who terrorised the outer arrondisements of Paris in the late 1980s, murdering a string of elderly women—Denis here ... More »


Arguably Denis' greatest film to date, Beau Travail is by any standard a magisterial piece of work: meditative, richly sensual—an ode to the beauty of male bodies and to the inscrutability of ... More »


Asked to contribute to the French TV mini-series Tous les Garcons et les Filles de Leur Age (All the Boys and Girls in Their Time)—which assigned ten European directors the task of creating ... More »


For her second feature film, Denis departed from the meditative tone of her debut, and plunged instead into the noise and energy of a band on the road. Acclaimed Cameroonian act Les Têtes Brulées ... More »


Returning to Cameroon, the West African nation where she spent her childhood, a young Frenchwoman (Mireille Perrier) contemplates her youth, spent within the enclave of a colonial outpost, and the ... More »

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