Judge Brett Cullum had a dream he saw a French version of Donnie Darko... and then he died.
"Hey, I'm tired. Do you understand? I'm tired. I can't sleep. If I
sleep, I die."
I once heard someone say the cinema is public dreaming. We're all in the dark, looking at ghostly images of light dancing in this strange state of semi-sleep where the outside world is gone…until somebody's cell phone rings. Many movies speak dream language—whether it's a David Lynch film like Mulholland Dr., a cult classic such as Donnie Darko, or the dream inspired Moulin Rouge. These kinds of movies tap something primal while they spin around in our collective subconscious. People leave the theatre either gleefully ruminating over what it all means, or cursing the day non-linear narrative was invented. You love it or hate it—and that's going to be your reaction to No Rest for the Brave. Surrealism, expressionism, existentialism—basically the whole lot of "isms" could apply to this movie. Are you scared yet?
It opens with two young men talking in a coffee shop: Basile (Thomas Suire) and Igor (Thomas Blanchard, The Pornographer). Basile is afraid to fall asleep, because he believes if he does he will die. He says he has encountered a mythic figure named Faftao-Laoupo who will kill him the next time he slumbers. Igor goes later to check on his friend, but his mother says her son is missing and that it is a usual occurrence. The next day Igor hears that Basile's entire village has been killed, but his friend's name is not on the list. Igor teams up with a reporter name Johnny Goth (Laurent Soffiati) to stake out Basile's house. The youth appears with a shotgun, and the movie begins to shift and spiral into alternate worlds and dreams that rip at every shred of reality.
No Rest for the Brave becomes a film that defies any classification. A slacker comedy shifts into a polysexual rural pastoral meditation where Basile is living with his sixty-year-old lover in "The Village of the Dead." He goes to the "Land of the Living" by driving a red airplane that never gets off the ground. He has many friends who do things like milk goats while singing heavy metal love ballads, and discuss serious philosophical topics while playing pool and drinking endless pints of beer. Things start to shift after Johnny Goth reappears looking for Basile (who is now using the name Hector). After having sex on a pool table with an old woman, a young girl tells him to run and keep running. After his old man lover takes him by bus to a city, things begin to shift again. A wave eats the old man, and suddenly the movie is a slapstick gangster buddy movie with Johnny Goth and Basile running from hitmen.
The movie has no reality, and defies genres. The director, Alain Guiraudie (That Old Dream That Moves), is intentionally fusing surrealism with socialistic ideals, and is wildly spinning and mixing genres simultaneously. He's like a crazed French deejay playing house, trance, and hip hop with little regard for how they sound mashed together. He's searching for truth in the absurd, and patterning discord in layers. In simple terms, No Rest for the Brave portrays the fevered dreams of a boy who is running from death, and ultimately is finding out mortality is inescapable and comforting. Guiraudie is reinventing the southwest of France into an dreamscape where cities are called "Buenauzerez" and "Riaux de Jaunnerot," so even the topography is wildly out of sync. But for all its abstractions, No Rest for the Brave shows a social realism of poor French bohemians living outside in their own terrains of imagination and passion. It is the ultimate anti-bourgeois statement, purposefully using very few interior sets and making heroes of a set of slackers. Even surrealists have agendas after all. In the end, it's a movie about the immortal trinity—death, sex, and taxes.
TLA Releasing has made very brave choices in their International Film Festival collection, and No Rest For the Brave marks another impressive entry. The transfer is quite good, though I did notice minor patches of grain and the occasional halo around a headlight. Overall, it's a fine job. The sound mix in both the surround track and stereo option are well-executed and distortion free. The only thing lacking is extras—they merely consist of a short photo gallery and a handful of trailers for other releases in the collection. But kudos to TLA for releasing the film, because No Rest for the Brave has certainly not surfaced in American art houses, outside of a Philadelphia film festival and a museum run in New York. They are doing great work with foreign films American audiences have probably not seen. It's worth seeking out this collection and this title.
The big question is: will you like No Rest for the Brave? Some will label the film a deplorable mess akin to a Rorschach test, while indulgent cineastes will champion its cause. People will fall easily in two camps—the "love it" or "hate it" variety. It helps if you can let go of preconception and abandon hope the initial mystery about the village or the mythical dream killer will ever be resolved. Fans of Donnie Darko will be in familiar territory, and Mulholland Dr. veterans will handle the reality shifts with ease. It's a film that begs for multiple viewings, since the French flies fast and furious, and keeping up with the subtitles juxtaposed with the images will be a challenge. In the end, it is a rewarding journey, and always interesting. It's profound, esoteric, and frustrating all at once. If you enjoy fugue states and dreamy metaphors, No Rest for the Brave will be right up your alley. I found it to be wickedly intriguing, filled with dark profundities and rich subtext. Anyone who hates surrealism will want to throw the disc across the room in a fit of rage, cursing the day they heard of French existentialism.
I wear the cheese, and it does not wear me. Happy viewing!
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