The Claire Denis Collection (15) ****
The films of the French writer-director Claire Denis are typically a collection of moments: vivid, self-contained, narrative-resistant renderings of indelible human experience. As Artificial Eye’s new four-film boxset makes apparent, this was an aesthetic choice right from her semi-autobiographical 1988 debut Chocolat, where memories of a fraught household in 1950s Cameroon quietly insinuate an entire history of colonial misrule. The pointillist approach gets refined further in 1996’s previously unavailable Nenette et Boni, an often charmingly abstract sex comedy that spots the softening effect a teenage girl has on her testosterone-inflamed sibling.
That film’s easy eroticism clearly fed into 1999’s Beau Travail, Denis’ breakthrough moment: a sinuous, shimmering, desert-set riff on Melville’s Billy Budd involving rival Legionnaires that, in its emphasis on male bodies at work and play, may just count as the most physical film ever made. 2009’s White Material brings us full circle, with a newly tiny and vulnerable Isabelle Huppert trapped on an African coffee plantation by civil war, and gradually summoning the force to fight back. Part gripping siege-thriller, part post-colonial reverie, it’s the moment Denis was confirmed as one of the most distinctive filmmakers at large in world cinema today.
The Claire Denis Collection is available on DVD from Monday.