Irene

A documentary that starts, proceeds, and remains in the first-person subjective.

Filmmaking widower Alain Cavalier’s tentative bid to turn his decades of grief into watchable cinema results in “Irene,” a documentary that starts, proceeds, and remains in the first-person subjective. Personal docus are self-indulgent by definition, but the Gallic director of “Therese” goes further with endless closeups of his diary entries, seen in degraded DV and read aloud in Cavalier’s own pretentious baritone. Distribution outside France of this arrogant endurance test is both unlikely and undeserved.

Actress and beauty pageant winner Irene Tunc’s 1972 death in a car crash apparently gives Cavalier license to include all manner of fumbling passages — one literally so, as he drops his camcorder while riding an escalator and lets the tape roll. Other random “scenes” find the auteur looking for a public toilet, lingering over a magazine photo of Sophie Marceau, filming his shadow, waxing nostalgic over a bathtub soap holder, describing his late wife’s “violent orgasm,” and, most egregious, demonstrating his own breech birth using kitchen tongs, a moist watermelon, and an egg. At one point, with his camera focusing on a lazy frog, Cavalier repeatedly says to himself, “Don’t make the film.” Too late.

Irene

France

Production: A Pyramide Distribution release of a Michel Seydoux presentation of a Camera One/Arte France Cinéma/Pyramide production, with the participation of Canal Plus, Cinécinéma. Produced by Michel Seydoux. Directed by Alain Cavalier.

Crew: Camera (color, DV), Cavalier. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard), May 18, 2009. Running time: 85 MIN. (In French with English subtitles.)

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