Chloe Marina Manchester
35 Shots of Rum Close Viewing
Eye of the Story
Of Mongeese and Rice Cookers
I do not know what movies are. I do, however, know what books are. I am also familiar with the concepts of ambiguity and important details going almost completely unexplained. I would like to write here about rice cookers, incest, mongeese, narrative flow, ambiguity, family, and the parallels between Claire Denis’s 35 Shots of Rum and Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
The first words spoken in the movie are spoken by Josephine. I took her to be anywhere from 16 to 26, though this could be because I am a terrible judge of age. She has just gotten off work and is picking out a rice cooker from a shop with many rice cookers in the window. This is probably not a rice cooker specific shop, nor is the rice cooker simply a rice cooker. As she removes the rice cooker, a white-to-pink one with flowers, from the shelf in the window, Josephine’s face takes the place the rice cooker used to occupy
. This is not an accident. Much like Ozu, nothing in Denis’ film is framed without purpose and thought. The whole in the shelf against the window, much like many things in Ozu’s oeuvre, exists to be a frame within a frame. To separate and emphasize Josephine from her surroundings.
Once she gets home, she puts away the rice cooker. There is no music playin in the house. There is almost never music playing in the house. I’ll get to that, and a few other places where music does not play, later. As well as the only place music plays without a source.
This rice cooker means something. This rice cooker means a lot of things while really only cooking rice. This rice cooker is special because it is not the only rice cooker. Not just in the world, because that would be weird. But it is very specifically not the only rice cooker in Josephine’s life and in her apartment. This other rice cooker, which becomes the primary rice cooker, is red with flowers on it.
This other rice cooker is brought home by a man. A man of ambiguous relation to Josephine. That is until she says her first line since returning home, she calls him “Daddy.” if you lurk on the corners of the internet, this term of endearment does not clear the ambiguity. It’s intentional. It’s supposed to make you uncomfortable that you were so willing to accept that this man, Josephine’s father, was actually her partner. They have a close relationship and to some (me) this is an uncomfortably close relationship between a father and a daughter. Maybe this uncomfortability in the closeness between Lionel (the father) and Josephine was intentional, maybe not.
Maybe the discomfort I was sensing came from their own discomfort at their situation. Lionel’s concern about his eventual retirement and Josephine’s about her relationship with Noe. Coupled with both father and daughter’s very different though connected feelings toward Gabriel. Josephine and Lionel are both reaching opposing points in their lives when changes abound. Josephine entering adulthood, with the career and marriage that sometimes brings, and Lionel getting ready to close that chapter of his life and begin the final one. Without Josephine. The scene where Lionel is hungover and Josephine is taking care of him is especially pointed in that case. He tells her not to worry about him, not to take care of him. He tells her to move on with her life, in different and carefully chosen words.
The rice cooker too represents both the discomfort and the growing pains of the changes in their lives. Did Josephine buy the rice cooker because she assumed he would forget and then hide it when he remembered? Was her rice cooker intended to only be hers (and perhaps Noe’s) in her life away from her father? The last scene is one long shot of the red (Lionel’s) rice cooker on the counter in their apartment but then hands which we assume are Lionel’s place the rice cooker bought by Josephine at the beginning of the movie onto the counter as well. Is she moving out while he is making rice? Do they just really need a lot of rice? I honestly don’t know what it means, but I do know enough to know that it means something. Maybe it’s obvious. Maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s for the viewer to project their own thoughts and problems onto. Maybe it’s the three words that go unspoken by the mongoose in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
And now for the mongoose. I know there is no logical connection between rice cookers and little devilish snake eaters. I know this is not the reason these were chosen to be read and viewed in the same week. And yet.
The mongoose represents both the curse of the de Leon family and the saviour of the de Leon family. These things are not contradictory within the context of the lore of the story itself. The mongoose is what happens when someone is about to die, but really it is when they are about to be saved. The man with no face is something akin to the horse riding scene in 35 Shots of Rum. Something terrible is about to happen.
This connection between the rice cooker (for some change is both deadly and a savior) and the mongoose is at best, non existent. Maybe I think there is one because I don’t fully understand the role of either of them in the lives of the members of either family. There were a lot of “maybes” for me in week six, I think. There is a further connection between 35 Shots of Rum and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. It’s not complicated, it’s just family. But then again, family is never not complicated. The only permanent things in either story is family. They are a set. They are a family. No matter how far they move or try to run away the de Leons will always be that set. They will always be that family. It is the same with Josephine and her father. Even though the dynamics of their unit may shift, they will remain that unit. Gabriel isn’t let in to the unit to be Josephine’s mother. Noe may marry into one segment of the unit but he will never be fully part of it. Family is the only constant. Family and rice cookers and mongeese.
I would also like to touch on the soundtrack of 35 Shots of Rum. The music remains diegetic through the entire movie with two notable exceptions. Whenever the camera is racing out over the train tracks from the train controller’s window is the most clearly noticeable variation from the solely diegetic norm. The other deviation occurs when Josephine and Lionel are in Germany on the beach.
There are children with lanterns chanting and I tried very hard to not be creeped out by the fact that there were children with lanterns chanting. But more than that, there is a song play over their chanting from no onscreen source. It is as if this moment is the straw that breaks the non diegetic camel’s back. After that point there are more songs and more sounds that come from no available on screen source. In the final scene with the two rice cookers, there is also a radio playing a song. One final diegetic source, perhaps to make room for the credits to roll?
In any case. Never have I ever paid more attention to rice cookers in my life, nor will I ever be able to see a mongoose without thinking that I am about to die.