Nenette et Boni

on September 19, 1997 by Kevin Courrier
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   Claire Denis' fluid and lyrical style of storytelling in "Nenette et Boni" (which won the Golden Leopard best picture award at the Locarno fest) has an enrapturing quality. It takes audiences so far into the inner dynamics of a brother and sister, who have reunited for the first time in years, that they can practically read the duo's thoughts in the sway of their bodies. There's not much exposition, but the mere suggestiveness of the moviemaking makes one feel as thought caught in a strangely erotic dream.
   Boni (Gregoire Colin) is a 19-year-old who works in a pizzeria in Marseilles. He has developed a chip on his shoulder because he must fend for himself after his mother's death and his hated father's disappearance. But that chip proves as brittle as a pizza crust; it begins to crack when his 15-year-old sister, Nenette (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi), who was being kept in boarding school, escapes and comes to visit him when she becomes pregnant. Her arrival also stirs up the specter of their father, who re-enters both of their lives.
   Colin, who suggests a more Mediterranean Keanu Reeves, gives a subtle performance of some skill, because he doesn't have many lines. Bruni-Tedeschi provides an unsentimental turn that never appeals for sympathy. (Both actors won Silver Leopard best acting prizes at the Locarno Film Festival.) Alice Houri and Vincent Gallo are fine as a loving couple who run a bakery. (Boni has violently erotic fantasies toward the baker's wife that he never acts on.) Although the script sometimes wobbles a bit, and certain key plot developments are left vague, "Nenette et Boni" is an otherwise absorbing film that hefts quite an emotional kick.    Starring Gregoire Colin and Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi. Directed by Claire Denis. Written by Claire Denis and Jean-Pol Fargeau. Produced by Georges Benayoun and Francoise Guglielmi. A Strand release. Drama. French-language; English subtitles. Unrated. Running time: 103 min. Screened at the 1996 Toronto fest.
Tags: Claire Denis, foreign, French, Gregoire Colin, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, family drama
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