BOOM

ÉCOUTE LES TEMPS is a moody French drama with supernatural elements. We had a particular interest in the subject because it relates a bit to Fiona’s last feature script, written for the delightful Terry Gross who’s trying to set it up as a low budget production. Both stories deal with supernatural SOUNDS, heard in the home of a dead loved one.

Early in the film there’s a strange black shape visible at the top of frame in a couple of shots. It stays in position as the camera pans, and I realised it’s the matte box, an apparatus on the front of the camera that’s used for attaching filters. It shouldn’t be in shot!

“The DVD must be showing too much of the image — this is stuff that was supposed to be masked out,” I said. Dogwoof Pictures, who released the film, should have taken more care. “If this keeps up, there’ll be some boom mics in shot too,” and sure enough, a little later:

The Shaggy Dog

Check the “shaggy dog” microphone baffler hovering above the guy’s head, top centre. But I thought THIS was going a bit far:

Not really, of course, that last one is deliberate, since our protag, Charlotte (Émilie Dequenne) is a sound recordist investigating her mother’s murder in a cottage that seems to have somehow recorded the events that transpired within: her microphone picks up audio flashbacks from different periods depending where in space she positions it. A rather fascinating idea, akin to Nigel Kneale’s TV play The Stone Tape, which develops very slowly from a methodical, low-key treatment. Our heroine takes to marking out her flat with lengths of twine, stretched through the time-space like an LSD-fuelled spider’s web, or like the elaborate defense mechanism constructed by the hero of Cronenberg’s SPIDER.

The purpose of Charlotte’s web is to pinpoint the exact point in space that stores the sounds of the murder being committed.

I lightly liked this — a reasonably standard Hollywood structure based on a really smart idea, and treated in a gradual, unfussed, very French manner. Hyping stuff up would have hurt it, and rendered it plastic and overfamiliar like the worst aspects of THE ORPHANAGE. What first-time writer/director Alanté Kavaïté loses in moment-by-moment drama, she gains in conviction, and a pace and tone that feel unusual when applied to this kind of material. Although her soundtrack throbs with constant reverberant atmospheres, the film reminded me a tiny bit of Jacques Rivette’s very quiet ghost story L’HISTOIRE DE MARIE ET JULIENNE, which appropriately contains the ghost of a microphone boom.

I shall explain. Early on, Julienne picks up his cat and lies down. The cat sees something overhead — an offscreen mic, is my guess — and its attention is rivetted, if you’ll excuse the pun bollocks. Julienne asks the cat if it can hear somebody moving about upstairs. There’s nobody upstairs, of course — or nobody of this world.

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13 Responses to “BOOM”

  1. I read this article:

    http://kinoslang.blogspot.com/2007/03/two-notes-hermine-nevermore-lip-and-lap.html

    before watching MARIE & JULIEN, so I knew to watch the cat’s reactions throughout the movie. Hilarious.

    A microphone that can hear past events is a neat idea (though I suppose here it’s the house/space which is haunted and not the microphone), reminds me of this 80’s TV program “Friday the 13th: The Series” (which had nothing to do with the films). In each episode, these shopkeepers-of-the-damned had to track down a different haunted artifact before it could harm its owner in some increasingly-silly manner. I’d tune in every week just to see what they’d haunt next. The Amityville Horror movie sequels were worth watching for the same reason.

    IMDB says Atom Egoyan directed an episode of the “Friday” series (a haunted statue of cupid that causes people to kill their lovers). Extremely unsurprisingly, IMDB also says the “Friday the 13th” film is getting a remake next year.

  2. I vote for a haunted foot spa!

    Nice article. The cat is obviously incredibly well-trained in some scenes, and left to express itself naturally aroung the film equipment in others. Which seems like the best way to represent a cat.

    Those freeze-frame shots are hilarious.

  3. L’Histoire de Marie et Julien was orginally part of the Scenes de la vie parallele tetrology (Duelle, Noroit) But after shooting for three days with Albert Finney and Leslie Caron in the leads, Rivette had a nervous breakdown and abandoned the project. When he took it up again years later the characters who were Sun and Moon goddesses became ghost.

  4. – and the ending became a lot happier. It’s a a lovely film, more accessible than Duelle, but still mysterious. A friend suggests comparing the soundtrack (background atmos rather than music) with The Discrete Charm of the Bourgoisie, for that “twilight hush” common to both films and no other.

    Somehow Albert Finney is getting involved in all my recent posts!

  5. Well Duelle isn’t really accessible at all. It’s hermetically sealed — which is why I love it so much.

  6. David E: I watched Duelle, Noroit and Marie & Julien all this year. After each one, I search for articles online to help me understand ‘em and always find your writings. That one called “The Spectacle of Negativity” is a killer.

  7. Merci!

    I am a fanatical Rivettian. Thtough my adolescence all I had to go on was Paris Nous Appartient. Then in 1968 came the one-two punch of the purloined La Religieuse (1966) and the overwhelming L’Amour Fou. While I didn’t get to see the complete Out One until this past fall, thecondensed Out 1: Spectre was a dark delight for many years, as was its light-footed compatriot Celine et Julie vont en bateau / Phantom Ladies Over Paris. (The climactic shot of Barbet standing up in the boat and bowing in the latter is one of the most powerful in all cinema.

    What I find especially enchanting about Duelle is the score, played live by Jean Weiner himself. Who this pianist “is” and what he’s doing — and why he disappears after the ballet classroom scene — is never explained. And it never has to be.

  8. Who he is, of course, outside the film, is a composer with an EXTRAORDINARY career. And the father of Elizabeth Wiener, who appears briefly and stars in Clouzot’s extraordinary swansong La Prisonniere.

    La Belle Noiseuse is the Rivette of my generation, but I somehow failed to see it until recently. I’ve been catching up on JR through the recent UK DVD releases, but he’s still underrepresented.

    “Rivettian” is an OK term, but isn’t “Rivettehead” nicer?

  9. I kango for that.

    Regards,

    djp

  10. The intrusive boom microphones were visible throughout the film when I saw it last year in the Cameo. At first, I thought it might be some sort of metatextual thing, but, after a while, it became obvious that it was simply a goof.

    After the screening, I told one of the Cameo’s staff about the problem, but — perhaps predictably — they assumed I was a fool who didn’t realise that the film was about someone who often carries a boom mic around with them, so I was particularly glad to read this post. (Although it’s a shame that the problem has continued through to the DVD release.)

  11. There is even a mic visible at the bottom of the frame at one point, suggesting that the DOP was composing for a tighter frame throughout. Should have been fixable in post, and it’s frustrating that not only are we getting these distracting intrusions, but we’re getting a lot of empty space we weren’t supposed to have.

  12. Dear All,

    the format problem comes from a mistake from the UK distributor.
    There is now a new release of the DVD and you can exchange your badly formatted DVD with Dogwoof, please contact them and ask for a proper one.
    We appologies for this problem.

    Antoine Simkine – producer of “Ecoute le Temps”.

  13. Thanks very much for getting in touch! And congratulations on a fine film. It deserves to be seen in the best possible form.

    (I’m going to be terrified of shooting anything open matte format from now on…)

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