Monday, 8 March 2010

Pit Stop: Le Batteur du Bolero

Pit Stops
I intend this blog to build up into a list of feature length films that I adore in one way or another. As such, I have decided to limit movies on the list to those that are at least 40 minutes in length. However, this disregards many other works of cinematic brilliance such as short films or the classic theatrical animated shorts of Warner Bros., Disney, MGM et al. To not include these great works would be a crime so I propose to write, alongside my film reviews, a series of occasional shorter reviews entitled 'Pit Stops', which take in shorter but no less highly-recommended celluloid treats.

Pit Stop: Le Batteur du Bolero (The Drummer of Ravel's Bolero) (1992)
Dir: Patrice Leconte

Often when we sit down to watch a film we long to be wowed by stories writ large on the screen and filled with bold brash flourishes and cinematic trickery. We long to see flying Deloreans leaving trails of fire behind them, Steve McQueen jumping barbed wire fences on a motorbike or Sigourney Weaver shrieking "Get away from her, you bitch". However, just as often many of us find ourselves longing for something more pared down, focusing on the minutiae of everyday life, the intricacies of human relationships or the emotional complexities of a single fleeting moment. Sometimes the most thrilling film experience can be one that inspires enormous empathy in the viewer by simply tapping into an experience that is deeply familiar to them rather than something from their wildest dreams.

When it comes to examinations of life's smaller moments, they don't come much smaller than Patrice Leconte's simple but beautifully realised short 'Le Batteur du Bolero', a film largely composed of a single, eight minute shot. Leconte's starting point is his own hatred of Ravel's famous classical piece, 'Bolero' (for many a piece of music that is mentally inseparable from Torvill and Dean's 1984 gold medal winning Olympic routine), which he has stated he finds to be a boring and repetitive piece of music. To illustrate this point, Leconte chooses as his film's hero the drummer who must keep the ultra-repetitive rat-a-tat marching beat going throughout the whole performance. The film opens with the camera focused on the conductor. We then get a shot of the whole orchestra and the camera slowly pans across the musicians to finally settle on our unlikely hero; an overweight, balding drummer awkwardly perched at his instrument and gently tapping out the beat to which he will be a slave for the duration of the performance. The camera comes to a stop on him and will not move for the rest of the film. We are now forced to share in the personal nightmare of one man's struggle with crushing tedium. Jacques Villeret, who plays the drummer, goes through a series of facial expression that range from blank disengagement to excruciated winces of desperation and despair. His sqirmy fidgeting and mental anguish are so instantly recognisable to anyone who has found themselves trapped in a situation of utter boredom and discomfort that this one simple shot of a man fighting his own disintegrating patience becomes completely compelling, not to mention absolutely hilarious.

We need our cinematic escapism, of course we do. We need crashing cars, exploding buildings, huge automatic weapons and one-liners casually tossed out during life-or-death situations. However, it is just as important that we analyze and appreciate the little moments that make us who we are, the very humdrum minutiae which we use those other films to escape from. 'Le Batteur du Bolero' shows us how this can be done in a fascinating and entertaining way and, in doing so, demonstrates the fact that overweight drummers suffering from irksome, apathetic despair are every bit as important to cinema as Bruce Willis's dirty vest.

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