November 26, 2018  (Web Review)

Cold Water

Criterion, 95 min., in French w/English subtitles, not rated, DVD: $29.99, Blu-ray: $39.99

Reviewer rating: 3.5/4

French filmmaker Olivier Assayas’s 1994 breakthrough film serves up a powerful portrait of teenage alienation and angry rebellion. Virginie Ledoyen stars as Christine, a troubled girl with a history of violent rebellion against a domineering father, and Cyprien Fouquet is her boyfriend Gilles—son of a wealthy single dad—who shoplifts for kicks. The simple narrative—Christine is caught in Gilles’s latest heist, then committed to a psychiatric hospital, and later escapes with plans to run away with Gilles to some never-never-land artist colony—is rich in detail and resonates with the inarticulate, impulsive passion of defiant teenagers. At the heart of the film are long unbroken shots of wandering characters looking like lost souls in an alien landscape: Gilles bicycling through a misty forest, Christine adrift at a party, Gilles absently slashing the seats of a city bus before finally settling into one. The middle third of the film centers on an all-night party in an abandoned chateau, with the gliding camera weaving through groups of teenage kids drinking, smoking, and dancing, creating an edgy mix of intimacy and disconnection that tensely builds over the arc of the evening. Assayas is able to fashion a ragged beauty from these moments. Rarely seen and unavailable until the rights were cleared up in 2018, Criterion presents Cold Water in a newly remastered restoration with extras including new and archival interviews with the filmmakers and actors, and an essay by critic Girish Shambu. Highly recommended. (S. Axmaker)