You don’t have to be a parent to connect with Claire Denis’s exquisite, extraordinary film about a widower (Descas) who realizes that his grown daughter (Diop) is rapidly approaching total independence. Nor do you have to be an acolyte of Ozu, a director whom Denis is clearly referencing, to appreciate this delicate family drama. (The homage doesn’t stop with the narrative’s filial dynamics; trains and rice cookers also make symbolic appearances.) You don’t even need to be longtime fans of the French filmmaker’s own back catalog, be it of the blissful-delirium variety (Beau Travail) or the simpler, more straightforward mode (Nnette et Boni). To fall in love with it, viewers only have to be receptive to a movie that examines the ties that bind with grace, wit and depth.
Everything about 35 Shots of Rum seems remarkably calibrated, from Agns Godard’s dusky cinematography to the use of unexpected pop tunes—if you never thought “Nightshift” by the Commodores had any erotic potential, just check out the film’s showstopping slow-dance sequence in a Parisian tavern. But the story rests on Descas and Diop as the father-daughter duo, and both actors understand how to use small gestures and glances to suggest a lifetime of living together. Even though they know the time has come for the college-age kid to fly the coop, bidding adieu is still hard to do. “Moments like these,” intones Descas, as he imbibes the titular shots that signify a rite of passage, “they happen once in a lifetime.” The same could be said for such a definitive statement of paternal affection, or such a pitch-perfect film.—David Fear
Now playing; Film Forum. Find showtimes