Thursday, October 02, 2014

The Consequences of Pop: Olivier Assayas and "Disorder"

Olivier Assayas' "Disorder" (1986), which marked his formal entrance into the film making world after several short films and a celebrated stint writing for the esteemed French film magazine Cahier du Cinema, holds the best attributes for a debut. Not only does it pantomime so many of his future themes and shooting style, but it denotes the strong voice of an artist struggling to capture the naive and halcyon days of youth... something he's been chasing all these years. It's also very Gallic. His young threesome of lovers (2 males and 1 female) begin in an idyllic sharing relationship and then discover the oscillations of time, society and their own careless decisions continually tug and pull them apart. All of this against the backdrop of a bustling 80's pop music scene and "Disorder" lives up to its raucous title.

Opening on the three young lovers in a car during a rainstorm, their open relationship is immediately established as Anne (Anne Gisel Glass) leans into the font seat and kisses both Ivan (Wadeck Stanczak) and Henri (Lucas Belvaus, himself a future filmmaker). The trio break into a music shop, hoping to steal some instruments for their band. Little do they know, the owner is still in the building and catches them in the act. In an impulsive moment, Ivan kills the shop owner and the three make their escape. Anne is confused and devastated by the action, but Ivan and Henri attempt to go on with their lives. It's not long after, though, that their guilty conscience eats away at them. Anne decides to choose only one of them as her lover, and she chooses Henri. Unable to cope with her complicity, she eventually leaves both of them. Henri and Ivan try to carry on with their band, earn a studio contract and navigate the tempestuous relationships that come with a struggling band. Drummer Xavier (Remi Martin) loses his girlfriend to band member Gabriel (Simon de Bosse). Ivan falls in love with their manager's girlfriend, Cora (Corinne Dacla). Studio contracts come and go as the band can never find stable footing together. In typical Assayas fashion, "Disorder" is a merry-go-round for flirtations, break-ups and longing phone calls that yearn for simpler, quieter days. But that's the beauty of his cinema. The first ten minutes of "Disorder" sets the viewer up for a Bonnie and Clyde style thriller with the lovers on the run. Yet, not a single police officer shows up. The tension lies in the psychological storm that brews in the heads and hearts of Anne, Henri and Ivan. Like Christine (Virgine Ledoyen) in "Cold Water" (1994) and so many other Assayas protagonists, they're fragile embodiments... prone to depression, confusion and rambling, searching for happiness but finding only bitterness.
As a first film, "Disorder" isn't without its faults. The few scenes of the band performing don't give any insight into why they seem so popular or even merit a studio contract. In the annuls of bad 80's synth/guitar rock, they don't even seem to earn a place there. Some of the secondary characters feel less inspired and motivated than in future Assayas films. And, at times, even Ivan and Henri seem to be scarcely drawn caricatures of alienated French youth. Still, "Disorder" overcomes these precocious attempts in its final act as Henri, Ivan and Anne have grown up a little and developed in the real world over time. There's the omnipresent Assayas personal disaster to overcome, but "Disorder" creates a tender order in the final minutes as Anne makes a phone call to Henri and we fade to black. If nothing else, "Disorder" reveals that Assayas has that quiet knockout ending in him from the very beginning.

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