West Point

West Point


Reviewed by: Chris

The French have a wonderful pedigree when it comes to detached presentation of sexuality and intimacy. In the arts. In literature. In cinema. There is a sincerity that trumps emotional expressiveness. Cool analysis. Sophistication to make the most base acts highbrow narrative. Philosophy and aesthetics trump detailed, full-blooded passion that is embraced to the limit.

Laurence Rebouillon’s West Point is an intellectually challenging, visually arresting work. It starts with an unexplained death. More than one, in fact. Alexandre was 13 years old when mother was murdered. His sister Jeanne, five. Alexandre, busy filming things on a video camera, was the only person found at the scene of the crime.

“Loved ones don’t die to us immediately, they remain bathed in a sort of aura.” His mother’s body is found naked on a bale of hay. A stark image in the middle of a wheat field. As they recall events, the fragments of what happened, we piece together with them all the intervening mystery. Colour conversations and home video. Scratchy black and white. And that stark corpse, again and again. The golden field. Voiceover: details in graphic precision of autopsy. Memories. What happened? And where did our life go?

The years between. Alexandre has become a police detective, Jeanne has her own troupe of dancers. She is in a deeply passionate affair with another woman, Louise, who is a colourist. This film is like a poem. Like a dance. Like a collage. Just the way memory can be. Haunting, or sweeping us up in its strange and rapturous mystery.

West Point is the place where you have to let go. It is the westernmost outcrop in Portugal. Histories of European migrations, revolutions, are woven into a tapestry of human detail. The massive, brutal, 1982 wave of emigration. 12,000 Portuguese come to France. So many clues that pull at the heartstrings without giving answers.

Our film might echo some of the work of Northern Ireland installation film artist, Willie Doherty (Ghost Story). He also excavated memory. The duty to remember, the duty to forget. How do we deal with loss? Or Godard, when he speaks of Israeli and Palestinian trauma (Notre Musique). But, although finding a common thread, Godard spoke directly to the intellect. Rebouillon, to bring us intuitively to that place of understanding. Her vehicle is the gentleness of a woman’s mind. The sensitivity of touch. And our protagonist Jeanne, having navigated debates and arguments with her lover over the basics of feminism, of politics - it is she who will eventually nudge her brother towards an impossible truth. She realises it is not the memories but what you do with them. “Memories ruin us with melancholy when her stunningly beautiful face forgets to age.”

And their mother was not the only victim. “We found another body...” It keeps repeating. It keeps cropping up. Ultimately, doesn’t everyone die anyway? Ghosts of the flesh still haunt us.

Sometimes all West Point’s poetic dialogue is very suggestive – at least it can be once you work out the noir-ish ending. But beautiful, still, on the ear until you do. “We must borrow from the sun before the distant funeral.” Sometimes it verges on pretentiousness. The sort that lovers use to a fault. Jeanne and Louise pledge themselves. “I’ll belong to your every movement, your words of truth.” But it can get over the top. As Jeanne beckons, “Kiss me with kisses from your mouth. Your love is sweeter than wine. The smell of your scent is exquisite, and your name spreads everywhere like oil.” To which Louise replies: “Jeanne, your flowery prose is getting on my nerves!” But they kiss anyway. Louise can be just as florid when the mood takes her.

Deep expressions of love mirror the fact that the dead are living on in memory and won’t let go easily. “If you go down there, by Mom’s beach, tell her that from my tired heart the blood flows through my fingers.” And will it be overdoing it to say, “Your breath is now filled with light, your lips draped in mist?”

For lovers of this style of difficult and very French cinema, West Point is a work of rare vigour. A testament to the sort of culture Sontag might enshrine. A permanent treasure. As opposed to, say, a straightforward detective story for passive viewers (which the French also do quite well). For others, West Point will just be incomprehensible waffle accompanied by arty lesbian lust.

Reviewed on: 20 Jun 2009
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A brother and sister attempt to repair their relationship and reconcile themselves with the truth about their mother's murder.
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Director: Laurence Rebouillon

Starring: Ronayette Isabelle, Cerf Bernard, Pontier Agnès, Leysen Johan

Year: 2008

Runtime: 57 minutes

Country: France


EIFF 2009

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