Keimena #6: Voilà l'enchaînement
by Claire Denis

Monday January 23, 2017, 24:00
Voilà l’enchaînement, 2014, France, 30 min.
Director: Claire Denis

How two people come apart can be as compelling to watch as what brings them together. In Clarie Denis’ film Voilà l’enchaînement, the fissures in a relationship between a black man (Alex Descas) and a white woman (Norah Krief) are apparent from the first scene. Longing for more closeness, and caressing his shoulder, she asks him to tattoo her name on his body. He gently refuses: “for you it means eternity, for me it means branded.” Does the friction of this early exchange—still light enough to be softened with an embrace, but opening a crack of enmity—set in motion what comes next?

French by birth and raised in colonial Africa, Denis frequently addresses themes of race and postcolonialism in France and West Africa. Here, she keeps the couple under considerable pressure, confining them to the narrow spaces of the film’s mise-en-scène, shot on a minimal soundstage. The camerawork by Agnès Godard is similarly constrained. Sometimes it locks tightly on the actors’ faces, watching for the slightest expression of frustration or pain, or it moves to other parts of their bodies to suggest what’s left unsaid. We see, for example, Descas’s hand sharply grab Krief’s knee when she calls him a “stud,” a word, he says soon after, that he’s only ever heard in reference to slavery. Her eyes lower, and what had been a playful smile vanishes from her lips.

The film implies others without showing them—the couple’s children, police officers, a judge. Our attention, meanwhile, is always on what happens between the couple; behind them, we see an abstract, gray background, neither in nor out of focus. This restricted, hazy space breeds both intimacy and acrimony. It is the stage and screen of a troubled relationship.

—Genevieve Yue, assistant professor of Culture and Media at the New School in New York City

Posted in Public TV on 01.23.2017