Le Souffle

Damien Odoul’s Le Souffle was plucked from obscurity to compete with the work of heavyweight auteurs at last year’s Venice film festival and went home with two major prizesoan impressive achievement for an ultra-low-budget, 77 minute, black-and-white first feature. On the surface it’s a classic coming-of-age story. In the Limousin region of France, one of the country’s remotest areas, a raucous all-male group of farmers hold a lamb barbecue, using the occasion to get the only youngster in the party, 15-year-old David, thoroughly drunk. David comes from the city and brings a dash of scruffy, anarchic modernity to this timeless rural limbo. He’s a messy bundle of hormones: absurd, confused, rebellious, aggressive, sometimes gauche, sometimes achingly beautiful–after his head is shorn like a lamb’s near the start of the film he looks uncannily like a young Keanu Reeves.
As the afternoon heats up and ripens, the youth’s intoxication unlocks erotic, violent and animalistic fantasies and the feast turns into something approaching a pagan midsummer rite. Intense, lyrical and enigmatic, Le Souffle makes no attempt to explain David’s behaviour. With its highly wrought soundtrack (the music roves from French rap and traditional accordion music to Henry Purcell) and its silvery, surreal images, it simply shows the world as he hears and sees it. … A published poet and former student of early music, Odoul describes himself as ‘an autodidact, but also a real cinephile’ and his film bears the trace of influences ranging from Bresson, Truffaut and Mizoguchi to Dumont and Jarmusch. It’s also strikingly original, though its fastidious aesthetic means it’s unlikely to penetrate beyond the arthouse fringes.
France, 2001. English subtitles. Black and white. 77 mins.

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