Saturday, June 4, 2011

Nocturnal Uproar (1979, Tapage nocturne)

Nocturnal Uproar was Catherine Breillat’s second film, released in 1979, and is one of her rarest movies.  It has finally found an American home video release, a DVD from Pathfinder Home Entertainment which, despite being released only last week, is already difficult to locate.  The film is about a filmmaker, Solange, played by the beautiful Dominique Laffin, who intellectualizes sex, who has lots of sex, and who seldom makes movies.  Maybe she’s too busy in the bedroom for such distractions.

Solange is a young writer / director whose sexual conquests are vast and legendary.  She is married to a rich moneyman, someone who lets her indulge in her appetites.  First is her lead actor, a handsome American played by Warhol and Paul Morrissey regular Joe Dallesandro, but Solange states that ‘she loves him and is sick of him.’  Solange is always hungry, and when she meets a fellow director she becomes infatuated with him, wants him, and his initial resistance only makes her steadfast to the point where she develops an unhealthy obsession that has her questioning her thoughts on desire and sex.

Descriptions of the film state that Solange as a filmmaker does what her male counterparts do—sleep with lots of people, including her lead performer.  My problem is that whenever a film is about a filmmaker I find the material is often too fake, and the profession is treated as something intangible and sacred or taken for granted and the process of filmmaking is never done justice.  With Nocturnal Uproar it’s simply not used at all.  Solange functions as a filmmaker for only the first act and only slightly.  Sessions in the editing room are used complaining about her sexual partners, and then we never see or hear anything about her work.  The film changes focus before the half-way point, signs of an unfocused screenplay, and perhaps the film is less about a filmmaker and more about a woman.  But why have her be a director?  It doesn’t enhance the mise en scène nor give depth to the character; film director is such a pronounced profession that to have it go unused I found a distraction.

Perhaps the film is more personal for Catherine Breillat.  Is it a record of her working methods during this period?  Her films have always dealt with sexuality and maybe the filmmaker was simply using the medium to express her own thoughts and experiences.  I love that; a great deal of why I love the cinema is the auteur theory which states the director is the author of a film; that links in an artist’s work can be found from work to work.  Breillat surely qualifies, and I can see how this film influenced her later work.  For example, it seems to be a precursor or even a veiled prequel to Sex Is Comedy, an infinitely more insightful look at the filmmaking process and sexual manipulation, and there’s a series of shots showing 2 characters descending a spiral staircase that she would repeat 30 years later in Bluebeard.  The problem with Nocturnal Uproar is that it isn’t insightful about the cinema, it isn’t insightful about relationships, and it isn’t even honest about sex.  I don’t want to sound perverted but the sex scenes in this film almost all look fake, though it is obvious that actress Laffin is being touched between her legs.  The film develops into a woman’s sexual obsession for a man who toys with her, someone who may or may not have alternate intentions with his amours.  This is a great subject for a film but it is arrived at a little too late.

Considering gender and sex; can a woman be as sexually free as a man?  Sure she can prey after the men who attract her like some men do for women or even other men, but because women have been brought up to be and perhaps instinctually are more in tuned with their emotions can they have indiscriminate sex and not, on some level, feel tied to the men they have?  Is the act of being penetrated, of having someone inside of you, too intimate a feeling to simply toss off sexual intercourse as a fling?  On some level I believe this.  The intimacy created by inviting someone inside physically is a more intense sensation, one that requires more trust and strength than being the more dominant sexual partner, and perhaps Breillat is arguing that women cannot be free sexually and perhaps more generally they lack freedom in Christian-dominated societies.

The film works better as an intellectual exercise than it does a movie because frankly it isn’t visually interesting.  It’s all dialogue, and while the majority of Breillat’s work relies on dialogue here her characters have very little of interest to say.  They seem more to be parodying what a Breillat film will become rather than offering genuine insight into sexual or human relationships.  Catherine Breillat again gets a gutsy and rather brilliant performance from her lead, Dominique Laffin, whose innocent looks and beauty reminded me of Irene Jacob.  Laffin is nude a lot, mostly from the waist down, an interesting decision by the director, and she performs the part great as written.  I only wish it were written better.  She is however an actress I loved looking at, and I was shocked to read that she died at 33 of a heart attack.  Life is sometimes a bad joke.  Joe Dallesandro was a surprise to see.  He’s not a great actor but he has been great on screen, particularly in Flesh, the Warhol Factor’s best feature.  Here he is playing someone like himself, a handsome young actor who’s photographed more for his looks than talent.  It’s sad that while still young, the effects of drug use seemed already to be working against him in 1979.  The character of Bruno, Solange’s filmmaker lover, isn’t that impressive.  He has his games with Solange but I never believed that she would become so obsessed by this man.  Yes she is flirtatious but the parts are not well developed and we never see their intensity build.

Catherine Breillat may be a crude or uneven filmmaker—some of her movies are masterpieces, others insufferably slow and thoughtless—but that is the nature of her art.  She uses the cinema not to entertain or even to enlighten but to rummage through her own demons.  This explains the existence of Nocturnal Uproar.  It is an impulsive film, indecisive; maybe this is the film she should make now, with some 30 years distance, to truly make her intentions felt.  Maybe now after a life lived, a stoke which must be life changing, she can grasp at a more clear understanding of her younger self and write about a sexually desiring filmmaker who uses men until she tires of them.

Nocturnal Uproar (1979)
(a.k.a. Tapage nocturne)
* the DVD goes by the title "Night After Night" *
Director: Catherine Breillat
Writer: Catherine Breillat
Stars: Dominique Laffin, Bertrand Bonvoisin and Joe Dallesandro
In French
Runtime: 97 minutes

IMDB link:

A great resource for Breillat on DVD:

I have been in touch with Pathfinder Home Entertainment via email and they confirmed that Dirty Like An Angel, currently Breillat's only unreleased film in the US, will be released this fall.

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