The Moon in the Gutter (Jean-Jacques Beineix / France-Italy, 1983):
(La Lune dans le Caniveau)

"Cinéma du look" assoluto -- the moon isn’t a moon but a pale spotlight, a puddle of blood is first and foremost a splash of crimson. Such planes of artifice comprise Jean-Jacques Beineix’s fetishized gambit, with eyes not on New York, New York or One from the Heart but on Sirk and very early von Sternberg, The Salvation Hunters, say. As the forlorn Marseilles stevedore obsessed with finding his sister’s ravisher and killer, Gérard Depardieu dons Stanley Kowalskian shirts and crunches his way through a cinder block of solid ice. His family includes a boozy-scavenger brother (Dominique Pinon) and a moldy father (Gabriel Monnet) henpecked by a rotund diva (Bertice Reading) who belts her lines in phonetic French; elsewhere, his tantrum-throwing mistress (Victoria Abril) straddles a swing and slams into the camera, legs akimbo. Against this photogenic squalor is Nastassja Kinski, shot like a goddess in a purring red convertible under a billboard containing the filmmaker’s invitation into relentless stylization ("Try another world"). "You came here for a ride," the hero warns her. "Be careful." The transmuting of David Goodis’ American tough-guyisms into Gallic swooning in cavernous Cinecittà soundstages is a sublime move or possibly a forehead-smacking one, but in either case it feels ideal for Beineix’s set of lustrous superficies. The iron leviathan stationed at the harbor and the cathedral-castle dangling on the edge of a chasm are just two of the visions of high and low delirium; there’s also a nocturnal waterfront lit by the lovers’ emotional fireworks (dilated later by Leos Carax) and the atomized color of a car’s headlights as it barrels toward disaster. An extravagantly elongated trance, it’s been called airless, obnoxious and wasteful by those blind to the cardboard Pierrot cutout, to the violin wrapped in newspapers, to the romantic folly voiced plaintively by Depardieu: "Faith is not a matter of size." Cinematography by Philippe Rousselot. With Vittorio Mezzogiorno, Milena Vukotic, Bernard Farcy, and Anne-Marie Coffinet.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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