(note: Anytime I refer to Chantal Akerman or her filmmaking group as French, please substitute “Belgian”. My apologies to both Belgium and France as appropriate)
“Je, Tu, Il, Elle” is my penance for “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.”
Hulu Plus features a number of films from the Criterion Collection. Among them is “Je, Tu, Il, Elle.” I chose this because–other than “Au Revoir Les Enfants,” which I watch whenever I can–it’s been a long time since I’ve seen an unfamiliar French film.
This one starts out with a woman, Julie (writer-director Chantal Akerman) in a small room. She talks (in voice-over) about how she painted all the furniture blue. The next day, she reports that she repainted everything green. This is great, because the film is completely in black & white, and we would have no reference as to the furniture’s color otherwise. Then she writes a letter to her estranged lover. Then she rewrites the letter, telling us she made it six pages instead of the previous three. Then she eats sugar straight from the bag, then takes her clothes off. Then she thumbtacks all the pages of the two letters to the floor. Then eats more sugar. Wait. Maybe she…merde. I can’t remember. It’s just. So. Slow. This goes on for the first 20-25 minutes of the film. Woman. Small room. Bag of sugar. Spoon. Writing utensil and paper. Lots of ambient noise and just nothingness. One line struck me as funny, somehow: (something like) “I just lay here. Waiting to believe in God. Or for you to bring me gloves because it’s cold.” (while this part is very draggy, it makes more sense as time goes on)
Once the sugar runs out, Julie gets dressed, and leaves her little room of exile. She hooks up with a truck-driver (Nils Arestrup). They ride across France in his 18-wheeler, stopping in various diners and truck stops. There’s actual on-screen verbiage now, mostly courtesy of the truck-driver (he’s not given a name). On the last leg of their travel partnership, he directs her into giving him a handjob. Afterward, he talks about when he was young, and how he met and fell for his wife. And how his wife got knocked-up, and had a baby, which meant that he had to work more, and such. This is the second third of the movie.
The final third finds Julie showing up at her lover’s apartment. Her lover, Claire Wauthion, tells Julie she can’t stay. Julie protests that she’s hungry. So “The Girlfriend” (unnamed, as is truck-driver), goes to the kitchen and returns with a sandwich. Julie devours the sandwich, and asks for more. So “The Girlfriend” goes and returns with a tray, featuring bread, butter and–I swear it–NUTELLA!!!!! WOO-HOO!!
Sorry. I got excited more by the Nutella than I did the first third of the film. If there had been a jar of Nutella in the little room, I’d have been more engaged.
I digress. “The Girlfriend” makes a sandwich with the Nutella, then another with something in another tub. “The Girlfriend,” after she brought wine, says “I want you to leave in the morning.” Then, cut to what has to be the most-passionate love scene I’ve ever seen in a non-porno film. Mon Dieu. Julie and The Girlfriend wrestle and twist and kiss and contort for something like 11 minutes. There are two, maybe three cuts in the whole scene, no music video-style editing like in “9-1/2 Weeks,” no music at all. Over ten percent of this film was two pretty, young, French girls having sex on screen. It was beautifully filmed–again, in black & white–but it almost went on too long. Because it was a fixed camera, I felt uncomfortably like a voyeur. Or a pervert. Or…I don’t know. Somebody who’d be more comfortable watching the women have sex for five minutes, then go back in the kitchen for Nutella and wine.
Anyway, morning comes, and our young, estranged lovers are asleep in each others arms. Julie extracts herself from “The Girlfriend”‘s arms, picks up her clothes, and walks out the door.
There were a lot of odd French films made in the 1960’s and 1970’s, avant garde pieces, some better than others. This one started out verrrrrrrry slooooowly, but the beginning kind of made sense as the film moved on. We never get any clear answers, and there’s no real plot. It’s just a slice-of-life, not a particular narrative. After she walked naked out of “The Girlfriend”‘s bedroom, Julie could have gone and killed herself, returned to her job teaching Accounting at the local Junior College, or bought a latte and ridden the subway to a convent. There’s no telling.
Basically, she’s a quirky young woman who exiled herself in a small room following a break-up, then hitch-hiked to her lover’s house, eating in diners and giving a trucker the happy handshake en route. There is little plot. Or it would be: “sad girl does stuff.”
Again, this sort of film was common in 1970’s France. A lot of it can be blamed on Jean-Luc Goddard for inspiring so many people. These films are not necessarily entertaining in the traditional sense. This–and others like it–are the cinematic experience of Picasso, I imagine: great for somebody with an appreciation for the art, but not for mass-consumption. It’s the kind of film douchebag Film Theory and Criticism minors like me would sit around and over-analyze while getting plowed on Wild Turkey.
It’s a damn pity I quit drinking.
Grade: B (I’d give it a C+, except that it gets extra credit for the Nutella!!!!)
(note: This film was featured in Fabulous! The Story of Queer Cinema (2006), which I watched and loved several years ago. If you don’t get “Je, Tu, Il, Elle,” try and find “Fabulous!”)