The cost of slavishly adhering to rock ‘n’ roll’s adolescent values is weighed against the necessity of growing up in “Violent Days,” a seemingly rambling but ultimately pointed French indie. B&W lensing and retro-hipster characters evoke memories of Jim Jarmusch’s “Stranger Than Paradise,” though the three male protags are actually closer to Jean-Paul Belmondo’s boorish lead in “Breathless,” without the cultural sophistication. Deceptively aimless tone will hamper pic’s commercial prospects, but festival audiences will take notice — if they last the relatively brief, but still testing, running time.
Pic exists in two versions. A 106-minute one, reportedly with more emphasis on docu elements, unspooled at the 2003 edition of the Belfort “EntreVues” fest; much shorter, 79-minute version caught at Berlin first showed at Belfort last year under the title “Violent Days — Dry.” Helmer-producer-scripter Lucile Chaufour is mulling the possibility of releasing both versions in Paris in October, though it’s unclear at this stage how each version will be differentiated from the other.
Berlin version begins with rockabilly renegades, Frederic (Frederic Beltran), Franck (Franck Musard) and Francois (Francois Mayet) having a latenight, laddish tussle over a few drinks and a card game. As the guys create havoc, Frederic’s unnamed, bottle-blonde g.f. (Serena Lunn) tries to smooth everything over. The next morning, as the men sleep, she dutifully cleans up the debris.
Hungover but ready to start again, the men decide to drive to Le Havre to see their favorite band. Punctuated by inserts of rockers laboring in working-class locales, the road trip is an irritating affair for Frederic’s g.f. Auds, too, may get crabby as her companions niggle endlessly while the small car booms out rockabilly.
In Le Havre, the apparently real McCoy Gallic rockers aggressively vie for the camera, spill beer, hoot, holler — and dance good, too. Most wouldn’t even have been born when Elvis died.
Rivalries between the men build an expectation of violence — which erupts outside with an Arab gang while the concert audience rocks on obliviously within. No catharsis is achieved, though the pic’s temperature is cooled. The real climax comes as the quartet begins its trek home.
Basically, nothing much happens in the film; but Chaufour’s skill is in maintaining a potentially explosive atmosphere in which anything could happen at anytime — a world in which alcoholism and drug use keep the day violently simmering for no other reason than to relieve boredom. Though the film could be briefer than even 79 minutes, the power of Chaufour’s B&W images and her understanding of her subject are undeniable. Lunn is aces as the long-suffering girlfriend who survives her lot with a pained dignity.
B&W lensing is grainy and with a docu flavor, full of poor lighting, focus-dropping and other glitches that add to pic’s sense of authenticity. In contrast, the final crawl is an arty and sharply executed exercise, with soothing music encouraging viewers to remain and contemplate a hazy but pristine image of Lunn. This final moment, both haunting and a relief, elevates Chaufour’s verite-style exercise to another, more poetic level.