Home  Contact Phil


Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton


   35 Shots of Rum


Director Claire Denis (2009)

There is a classic example from the anthropology of drinking in 35 Shots of Rum when the car breaks down in the rain and the four main characters seek shelter in a pub. At first they can't get in. The pub is closed. But a barmaid shows sympathy and reopens the bar. They drink and they dance (to the Commodores' Nightshift) and suddenly we see relationships shift, bind and fracture. It is what anthropologists of alcohol call 'time out', a physical and temporal space in which the rules of working life are briefly lifted and people see themselves from a different angle. It is also an example of what I call 'off diary drinking', when you are surprised to be in a pub. It's always the best kind of drinking. Sadly they are closing the anthropology department at Jo's university, because they can't see the point of it.

Jo (Mati Diop) is the daughter of Lionel (Alex Descas), a Paris Metro driver, and they live in a block of flats with neighbours and friends Gabrielle (Nicole Dogue), a taxi driver who fancies Lionel, and Noe (Gregoire Colin), who fancies Jo. They are four nice, ordinary people with ordinary troubles and ordinary pleasures. The kind of people they don't make films about. We are so used to violence and horror irrupting into a set-up of this kind I found myself trying to spot the suspicious characters, the bit where everything is going to go wrong. Like that bloke in the back of Gabrielle's cab with matching hat and coat. I bet he's up to no good. But he just pays his fare and goes on his way. And drug dealers. There have to be drug dealers in this part of Paris. But no. I saw more drug dealers on my way to the cinema. Really.

It's a bold film-maker who shows working class life the way it's lived. It could be boring. In fact the characters, while generally happy, are clearly bothered that it's boring. We see Lionel's view from the driver's cab, eight hours a day of Metro track going up and down, round and round. This is what most people do. And when it stops, where does that leave you. For Lionel's workmate Rene, retirement leaves despair. Staying on the rails might be dull but at least it gives you purpose and meaning.

This isn't all the film has to say, though. Where lives are smothered by working routine there is the possibility of rebellion, of change, continually hinted at if never quite enacted. And it's hinted at through drinking. The unscheduled night at the pub and those 35 shots of rum break the grip of regulated behaviour and suggest human beings, all human beings, might be capable of a whole lot more.


July 21, 2009

Back to Reviews



Writing... Journalism... Research... Awards Judging... Pub Business Advice... Pub Crawls
  Contact Phil