UK Release Date: 10th September 2018
Runtime: 92 minutes
Director: Olivier Assayas
Writer: Olivier Assayas
Starring: Virginie Ledoyen, Cyprien Fouquet, Jackie Berroyer, László Szabó, Dominique Faysse, Smaïl Mekki
Synopsis: Two troubled teens find meaning each other as they take part in a turbulent relationship against the backdrop of 1970s France.
In one of the first scenes of Olivier Assayas‘s coming of age drama Cold Water, the protagonist steals a handful of LPs from the record store, smuggling the likes of Creedence Clearwater Revival into his bag to sell on at school. It’s a scene that illustrates one of the clear ethoses of the story, in its drawing of a clear connecting line between rock music and youthful rebellion. Indeed, it’s the presence of classic tracks from the likes of Alice Cooper and Janis Joplin that kept the movie off American and British screens for so many years since its 1994 French release – song rights are expensive. Drawing from his own adolescene, Assayas constructs a teenage tale that somehow manages to be both chaotic and controlled.
The light-fingered record enthusiast is Gilles, played by non-professional actor Cyprien Fouquet. He’s a middle-class youth who seems to have little to rebel against, but resents his cosy upbringing and is on the brink of being packed off to a boarding school. His girlfriend is Christine (Virginie Ledoyen), whose life is considerably more turbulent, as she pinballs between her Scientologist mother, her dismissive father and a clinic in which she is sedated to calm her anarchic impulses.
Cold Water has a deliberately shapeless quality in its early stages, moving between the lives of these two characters and illuminating their respective positions. In the immediate aftermath of the shoplifting incident, Gilles discusses Caravaggio with his father, while Christine is forced to spar with a police officer while she waits for her dad to send her away again. The characters converge once again for the movie’s musical centrepiece – a raucous party at an abandoned chateau, soundtracked to rock hits and showcasing carefree youthful energy in its purest form, whether it’s couples slow-dancing or teens dancing almost ritualistically around an enormous bonfire.
The same roving handheld camera that provided flair and dynamism in the dialogue-heavy first half is equally adept at capturing the chaos and noise of the party. It provides a crescendo of the story’s themes up until that point, before the narrative swerves again into the sort of naive escape out into the world that also powers the rather more uplifting ending of Sing Street. Suddenly, Assayas is back in a more minor key, culminating in an ambiguous finale that’s bleak whichever way you look at it, realising the title’s meaning as a bracing dose of reality for these idealistic characters.
In recent years, Assayas has seemingly taken it as his quest to prove to the world – successfully, I might add – that Kristen Stewart is a terrific actor, in movies like Personal Shopper. Here, he instead channels the verisimilitude presented by casting mostly non-actors – with the exception of the genuinely outstanding Ledoyen, who was a former child star – and allowing them to interact in as organic a scenario as possible. The relationship between Ledoyen and Fouquet is believably simple and driven by unbridled adoration, which only serves to make the final shot of a blank piece of paper all the more emotionally resonant.
This is a movie that serves as a raw portrait of its adolescent characters, delving into their insecurities as much as their futile attempts at what Jack Black would call “sticking it to the man”. Assayas might now be a festival darling extraordinaire, but all of the saplings of his cinematic style are present in Cold Water, as much as it’s not a slick production in any way. Like all of the best coming of age dramas, though, it has the reality behind its characters to make it sing – as well as its toe-tapping musical soundtrack.
A surprisingly slim selection for a Criterion release, though there is a very insightful new interview with Assayas, an interview with DP Denis Lenoir and an archive TV segment.
Pop or Poop?
Olivier Assayas devotees will already have seen Cold Water, but those who aren’t familiar with his back catalogue – or even his latest films – will find this to be an excellent entry point for his style. It’s a coming of age drama in the most conventional sense, but it also contains flashes of the experimental touches that would go on to define the director’s work. Throw in a handful of terrific performances and a classic rock soundtrack and the recipe is there for a solid tale of youth in revolt.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
Cold Water is available on Blu-ray in the UK from Monday, as part of the Criterion Collection.