Cinema Libre // 1983 // 137 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // October 20th, 2009
"We're born in the gutter, where the stars gleam in the water."
Ominous images of a full moon mean one thing in the movies: werewolves. There aren't any werewolves in The Moon in the Gutter (La Lune dans le Caniveau), but you could call it a sort of a were-movie as it shifts shape. It's the latest DVD release in Cinema Libre's continuing Jean-Jacques Beineix collection, celebrating the French director's career. This one was panned when it turned up at Cannes, but its reputation has improved over the years; at least Beineix says so in his talk in the bonus features. If you don't know enough about Beineix to decide whether to celebrate this release, consider that it stars Gerard Depardieu and Natassja Kinski.
"In a port, in a dead end in the dock area, a man came nightly to escape his memories..."
The man is Gerard Delmas (Gerard Depardieu), a stevedore who wants revenge for the death of his sister Catherine, who slit her own throat after being raped. When he decides to sit down with wealthy eccentric Newton Channing in a seedy bar, Gerard meets Loretta, Newton's beautiful sister. Gerard gives Loretta the address of his "crummiest" abode and, surprisingly, she turns up in her bright red sports car. That doesn't sit well with Bella, Gerard's "wildcat" girlfriend.
The Moon in the Gutter starts out looking like a mystery, but that's a red herring. It's more about Gerard's choice between rough-and-tumble Bella, who greets him jealously with a broken bottle because other women have been looking at him, and the cool Loretta, who drives him around the docks in her sporty car.
Jean-Jacques Beineix sends viewers where he wants them to go by telegraphing scenes. The opening finds a woman walking a little faster when she hears a man's footsteps behind her. Cut to the moon, then to a lone shoe, and then to a pan of her dead body, blood around her throat. The full moon is reflected in a pool of her blood. Voila! We're in a mystery. A few minutes later, Loretta enters a darkened barroom, accompanied by music that pounds and screams with significance. If you don't see hints of a romance unfolding as she says to her brother, "You ought to introduce me to your friend," you've just never seen a movie before. If that's not enough, a billboard reads "Try Another World" in the background as Gerard looks over Loretta's sporty car, parked at his crummy home. As she takes him for a spin, the lighting changes, and the gloomy docks have suddenly become brilliant and promising. Beineix seems to be overselling his story, but he's really toying with his audience before an eventual shift in direction.
I can't say the surreal story is exactly believable, but Gerard Depardieu grounds it in reality as much as could be done with his intense performance. Somehow even a scene in which Gerard proves he's tough enough to chomp through a block of ice to win a bet comes off naturally in his hands. Once he's managed that, his romantic conflicts, flashbacks, sadness over the loss of his sister, and fight scenes all come across as human and heartfelt, creating a nice balance between the real and the reel. As Loretta, Natassja Kinski makes a beautiful dream girl, but Victoria Abril as Bella is more interesting, storywise, as her jealous passion wavers between devotion and fury.
There was some digital pixelation in the transfer in one scene, but the movie otherwise looked good. The music seemed unnecessarily loud, but I chalked that up to Beineix's original choices.
The bonus features include a photo gallery, which reinforced my suspicions of the general artificiality of the look by revealing the exterior of a grand house to be a miniature, and a talk between Beineix and film writer Tim Rhys, in which Beineix talks about the poor treatment his film has received. Asked if his film is pretentious, Beineix says, "Probably."
There are times when Jean-Jacques Beineix simply goes too far over the top. Just before Gerard is attacked by two thugs, for example, he walks into a warehouse that looks like Frankenstein's castle, with doors sliding around, lightning flashing, and hanging bunches of bananas looking like some sinister experiment. While the score is occasionally clever, as when snake charming music accompanies the unbuttoning of Bella's blouse, the music is more often jarring and annoying.
In his discussion, Beineix rails at Gaumont for destroying the film for an extended version that he wanted to release in DVD form. While history will never know for sure, it looks like the cuts that were forced on Beineix for this release reined in his wanderings, making The Moon in the Gutter stronger. I think the points that Beineix wanted to make about love, revenge, and the classes come through better with brevity than they would have if the four-hour film he'd envisioned had been screened. That said, it would have been nice to have seen the additional footage as extras, even if the film stands nicely as is.
Just as I was about to dismiss my latest encounter with Jean-Jacques Beineix's playfully bizarre moviemaking as a wandering mess, The Moon in the Gutter suddenly came to a close, and I saw it with new clarity. Voila! There's a purpose in there. If you're looking for anything resembling a straightforward story, try another movie, but film buffs who are willing to take chances should take The Moon in the Gutter for a ride.
N'est pas coupable.
Review content copyright © 2009 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Cinema Libre
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
Running Time: 137 Minutes
Release Year: 1983
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Photo Gallery