During my teenage years, I dived into every foreign flick I could get my hands on just to bask in the artistic pretentiousness sometimes inherent within them. Well, that and to see a lot of sex and full frontal nudity, but that’s beside the point: I was something of a poseur. Nowadays, as I go from day to day as a barely-functioning and cranky adult, I see art as something of an obstacle in my path. It stares at me like a starving, rabid Chihuahua — wanting to consume me and turn me into another drooling connoisseur that probably wouldn’t know shit from Shinola.
Occasionally, I can still visit the aforementioned waters of artsy fartsy fare and say “Ah, yes — this is just the right depth and warmth.” Other times, though, I find myself tilting my head to the side and squinting in a vein attempt to figure out just what the hell I’m watching — and why I’m watching it to boot. One recent example of my inability to “get it” was The Moon in the Gutter (La Lune dans le Caniveau) by French filmmaker Jean-Jacques Beineix. Had I seen this film twenty years ago or so, I would have praised it as genius. Instead, I see it as a movie that constantly rubs in the fact that it’s artistic.
The story here has Gerard Depardieu (back when he was young, thin, and sans any prostate problems) as a dock worker who is out to find the man who raped his sister (who committed suicide shortly after). He wanders around, doing that whole existential philosophizing thing people in arty French flicks tend to do, talking to the likes of scantily-clad Victoria Abril (yum), an alcoholic spun-out Dominique Pinon, and some rich fellow (Vittorio Mezzogiorno) who likes to visit the local dive bar just to do all the things his friends won’t let him do.
The weird wealthy feller brings a strange lady in a red sports car into the neighborhood (Nastassja Kinski, offering more “yum” to the tale), whom the tortured dock worker begins to fall in love with. At least, I think that’s what was going on here: all I really noticed was that Beineix seemed to be more interested in fulfilling himself with his astonishing imagery — which is quite good, I might add — than he was with giving his audience something to enjoy. Part of this could be due to the fact that the studio producing this one, Gaumont, wanted a shorter cut of the flick (it was originally a four-hour piece, if you can imagine that).
Cinema Libre’s High-Def presentation of The Moon in the Gutter is a murky affair; one that probably didn’t help my appreciation of the feature any, now that I think about it — it’s hard to immerse yourself in something that looks so poor. A somewhat lifeless French Dolby Digital 2.0 track also distracts from any fun there might be here, with imposed English subtitles accompanying. Three extras are included: an interview with Monsieur Beineix (in English) by MovieMaker Magazine’s Tim Rhys; Mr. Michel’s Dog, Jean-Jacques’ first short from ‘77; and an assortment of production stills.
Frankly, I found the interview to be the highpoint here. Beineix discusses the making of the film and how the studio he was using was located directly between stages being used by Federico Fellini and Sergio Leone. The film itself, on the other hand, didn’t interest me as much — but, as I said, it could have been because of the awful presentation. I guess I’ll have to check it out again when/if a better release becomes available. Failing that, I’ll burn it to VHS and go back in time to give my younger self a copy.