Cold Water

Studio: Criterion

Sep 19, 2018 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Christine and Gilles are rebellious teenage lovers, each from their own distinctive brand of dysfunctional family. When Christine is grabbed by police while shoplifting vinyl, her father commits her to the local asylum. She escapes, and she and Gilles run away together.

Cold Water is rather unique among coming-of-age films in that its adolescent leads are so self-destructive and hard-to-defend. After an argument with his father, Gilles uses a knife to slash the leather cushions on every seat of the public bus. In the police station, Christine makes up a story about being raped by one of the officers for her own amusement. Christine and Gilles are both supremely flawed characters, yet it’s hard to look away when they’re together.

Olivier Assayas shot Cold Water as a TV commission in 1994, initially meant to fill an hour-long spot but later expanded to feature-length after some negotiations with the producer. For the series, each filmmaker was asked to create an episode that represented their own teenage years, using the music they themselves listened to at that time. Assayas responded with a film he described as autobiographical, set in the fall of 1973. The movie received good buzz after its release, but music licensing issues left it near-unreleasable until now; Cold Water leans heavily on big name artists like Janis Joplin, Roxy Music, and Creedence Clearwater Revival that are no doubt expensive to use.

Now that Criterion has worked out music rights issues for this release, it’s easy to see how the movie wouldn’t have remotely worked had these tracks been swapped out for sound-alikes. The music is all diegetic to the feature, and Assayas lets the songs play over long, long shots. When Christine shows up suddenly at an all-night rager – freshly escaped from the hospital, and heavily drugged – Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee” plays almost in its entirety as we watch her groggily stumble around the party, absent-mindedly hacking away at her hair with scissors, and then stabbing a friend with them. (The upbeat track makes her scary behavior even more disturbing.) Later, as the party dwindles in the hours of dawn, Nico’s “Janitor of Lunacy” lends a profound feeling of sadness to the proceedings. The curation of the soundtrack is superb, and certainly goes a long way in capturing this specific time and place.

While the list of extra features is not as long as many other Criterions, what’s here is really good. Chief among them are a vintage TV feature on the film, as well as a newly-recorded interview with Assayas. He seems to acknowledge Cold Water to be one of his lesser films, but does speak proudly of what he achieved with the movie’s music and casting. (Gilles is played by a first-time actor; Christine is played by Virginie Ledoyen, who would play Leo DiCaprio’s love interest in The Beach.) This is a compelling film, and worth a pick-up for fans of Assayas’ later work.



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