Some writers deploy an unanswerable style. Perry Anderson is one such: to read is to defer. Most of the time, anyway — but when the reader finds himself with the advantage, as I fear is the case here, the danger is that the whole edifice of authorial authority is severely weakened. Anderson’s comments on recent French cinema (not up to the standards of the early New Wave, apparently) are unworthy of him, but perhaps the piece as a whole can be read, in appropriately dialectical fashion, alongside this useful summary of one tendency in French cinema from Jonathan Romney.
As it happens the ‘extreme’ cinema is usually cited in narratives of French cultural decline (not Anderson’s — though he does a nice number on Houellebecq), and sometimes with reason. The problem with Romney’s piece is that he seems really to be writing about what’s surely the more interesting strand (though not, it seems, to commissioning editors) of current French cinema, and one he has championed elsewhere: the mini-genre about the living hell we call work.
Cedric Kahn’s Red Lights/Feux rouges, out next week, can plausibly be lumped in with these: it’s Godard’s Weekend but scary like The Vanishing and funny like Harry He’s Here to Help, and I loved it to bits. The casting of Jean-Pierre Darroussin, best known for embodying the noble Marseilles proletariat in Robert Guediguian’s films, as the depressive, boozing husband to Carole Bouquet’s ‘too beautiful for you’ career woman gives some sense of where Kahn is going: but just as the film’s protagonists, driving across France on a bank holiday weekend to pick up their kids from summer camp, exit the autoroute to negotiate the provincial backroads, so the film strays from the noir movie you might have expected from the set-up, usually by being as funny as fuck.
But locating the sources of my love for this film has brought me to the conclusion that, far from embodying some frightening new aesthetic of ‘extremity’, what the French cinema is doing best right now is fundamentally old-fashioned: elegance of technique and insight of dramatic material are the hallmarks of this film, as well as other recent films like Time Out/L’emploi du temps and even Demonlover.