Starring: Eduardo Noriega, Anna Mouglalis, Nathalie Richard, Eric Caravaca Running Time: 1:38 Country: France Year: 2003 Official Site: Novo
Facing the relative but undeniable beauty of Gaspar Noe's Irreversible, some viewers pointed out the film's only flaw was its resemblance to Christopher Nolan's Memento that used the same reverse storytelling. A totally unjustified remark given that the film, however imperfect, was used by Noe to serve a much deeper goal than Nolan did with his pseudo-metaphysical thriller. And one must admit that Irreversible remained the best French film of the year. Or should we say, the most interesting.
That is until the release of Jean-Pierre Limosin's Novo. This is the day where some may have made the big and formal mistake to see it as another Memento rip-off because its main character has a short memory issue. And if you see it this way, the film is by all means a failure. If you expect Novo to show you a film noir served by a twisted plot, you'll inevitably be disappointed. Check the French poster if you can, you will see (kind of unfortunately) Novo is nothing else than a "sentimental manifesto". This is obnoxious, true. But don't rest on this one. That would be not knowing Jean Pierre Limosin, an unformatted director, raised by cerebral French film makers and a profound appeal for graphical and pop culture deeply despised by this precise school. And in this culture, the ultimate freedom that it expresses. His first films looked like pop and plastic versions of Rivette cinema. Unbearable lightness, far too poetic for a cinema audiencethink of a positive and optimistic version of Jean Claude Brisseau that is as bright as the original is dark, you will capture the "oh so 80's" futility flowing from the man's work. The feeling was not much understood by the audience back then, and Limosin prowled the advertising world for a while, at times directing documentaries about film makers that he considered relevant: Kiarostami and Cavalier. After his 1998 film Tokyo Eyes, Takeshi Kitano. Between Guardian of the Night (1988) and Tokyo Eyes (1998), Limosin deepened his curiosity about Japan, pop and graphic heaven that fitted his inspirations so well. Tokyo Eyes was a film he needed to shoot. And a pop achievement that puts him back onstage, in front of an audience pretty much unaware the man has three films behind him. Unaware that the freshness in Tokyo Eyes didn't bloom out of random from a director who, in a traditional setting, is too old for such futility or for such a lack of depth.
In a similar way, Novo comes as a film a 25 year-old director couldn't make. Despite his plastic feeling and contemporary glamour, Novo is a rare achievement. An achievement touching a feeling a majority of directors (not only them) would rather abandon on the side of a road, which becomes a deadly weapon in the hands of one who learned how to deal with it and mostly, work with it: immaturity, and the idea from which it feeds most: freedom. A freedom Limosin seems to demand from himself on every shot, in every sequence of the film. A lightness that echoes so deeply as it faces sometimes heavy literary tendencies maybe brought by Limosin's co-writer Christophe Honoré.
And indeed: if the film tells the story of Graham, a man-child afflicted by a deviant memory; Irene, a mistress-mother taking the place of this memory, offering him the inescapable intensity of a love recycled on a daily basis; and the links that unite them. The meaning of it all remains enigmatic in the end, these links shown all along, Honoré and Limosin skimming over them without really digging. It is perceptible that something is supposed to be said about the place of memories in a love construction, but what we're shown is a couple of bodies bouncing among various love and existential accidents without ever being touched by them, always ending as immaculate as in the beginning, ready to throw themselves in a new insane action. Unbearable lightness of being that is much preferable to any metaphysical digression. And in this unstoppable race appears the "sentimental manifesto" we were sold on the poster.
If the "image direction", its furtive and stolen shots, make a big deal in the spatial feeling that grows out of Novo, this is also the direction of two beautiful actors that disturbs the senses of stunned viewers. Anna Mouglalis, the freshest French sensation, appears in her first masterpiece, bringing it a fetishist touch that will leave any sleazy spectator in awe. Limosin shows her more beautiful than she has ever been. She fits perfectly with Eduardo Noriega (phonetically speaking his linesgreat directing idea), as light as a newborn, wandering along the film, seeking a life he may have lost, after a love he will never taste. The Spanish actor seen in films by 'Amenabar and Del Toro appears more fresh and plastic than we may ever see him again. Beautiful. Free from any moral pressure.
This total absence of morality, shared by all the characters in the film, makes Novo such a peculiar piece. And despite a feeling that would have any detractor of French cinema (ponderous, anyone?) freeze in his seat, the way Novo embraces the body makes it stand out light years from any regular academic French crap. Far from reason and depth, Novo and without any discourse on the side, Limosin goes further than any such attempt that turned so trendy in the French cinema landscape these last few years (think Ozon8 Women, Under the Sand, BreillatRomance, A Real Young Girl, Bonello and others). Facing them, Limosin appears as the bastard son of Jacques Rivette and a Japanese John Hughes. Air, space, and once again, absolute lightness.
Saying Novo goes without speech would be a lie, though. But it remains inside the story, letting the film follow the stream of amazingly poetic images, naked bodies too beautiful, too smooth, and too free. Escaping any human apprehension. Following this, Novo definitely proves to be an alien movie. A feeling that touches all the films made by a man too free to fit any judgment or perception. Provocative in the way it can move one audience as much as it can upset another, too sad and bitter to dig such an upper-cut. Violence of a freedom that has seldom been as much desired and matured as in Novo. A slap that is necessary although it won't bring you any salvation. But a slap too rare to be despised or even ignored.
Fleeing any kind of format or structure, the most beautiful way, Novo has to be seen. This is French, this is not Besson, and this grabs you by the throat.