In the Film 35 Shots of Rum, directed by Claire Denis, there is an heir of mystery around each character. Each character is carefully constructed to build their unique slice of Paris, coming together to form a small community. Lionel is a train conductor and a father. The viewer has to make their own decisions about his past. His job is an important part of his character. All day long he moves foreword, continuously, on the tracks laid before him. Throughout the film he is featured consistently driving trains, starring blankly ahead. He rides his motorbike home at the end of the work day. The only time the viewer actually sees Lionel riding his motorbike, he picks up his daughter from work and she rides home with him. She says “I like riding like this.” He replies, “me too.”
The film is a constant struggle for Lionel. He has always been moving foreword. He struggles to accept and adjust to the upcoming changes in his life. His daughter cannot stay at home forever. At the beginning of the film, Jo, his daughter, purchases a rice cooker. She looks happy buying it. When she arrives home, the rice cooker is hidden away. Maybe she was waiting for Lionel to get home to surprise him, however he walks in the door with a rice cooker of his own. She is pleased, saying “so great you remembered.” The audience does not see the original rice cooker until the very end of the film, when Lionel arranges both rice cookers side by side. The image of the rice cooker is a strong one, and is central to this film.
The rice cooker is Jo’s self sufficiency. By buying it, she is effectively one upping her dad, expecting him not too. She anticipates Lionel forgetting, and so she takes matters into her own hands. When he arrives home with one as well, she never reveals her own device. At the end of the film, after she marries, Lionel takes the second rice cooker out of hiding and places it next to his. He fiddles with the lid, stripping off the wrapping. The film ends leaving the viewer looking hard at these rice cookers, begging an inquiry. Lionel can finally accept his daughter moving on in the world, moving foreword. Throughout the film Lionel struggles to grapple with life moving foreword. He fantasizes about moving freely throughout time and life.
While driving his train, he says “when I have dark thoughts, I think of my daughter.” There is a brief image of him and his daughter riding a horse on the train tracks. The camera is boisterous, bouncing over the horse’s head. The smile on Lionel’s face is radiant as Jo clutches to him and they ride all over the tracks. To the left, to the right, foreword in whatever manner they please. This is a crafted image to depict Lionel’s wish, his urge to take life on his own time. But this is not the reality. The ‘dream state’ he imagines is a direct contrast to the regular. The camera follows Lionel down the tracks continuously throughout the film. Long, continued shots fly down the tracks as the trains truck away. This is his life, moving foreword, forever and ever.
His work is a contrast to Gabrielle, his neighbor and who knows what else. She is a major part of Lionel and Jo’s lives, although the context of their relationship is never stated. She drives a taxi cab. This is a artistic choice to compare to Lionel, driving trains. She is a minor control freak, and the taxi can go wherever she pleases. She drives left, right, forewords and back. She constantly has a new destination. While she runs around the city frantically, her life moves forewords in a slower, confused mess of traffic. Lionel’s train keeps rolling on, endlessly forewords.
The rice cookers at the end of the film represent his acceptance of where his life is and where it will be going. He is sad to loose the company of his daughter, but he is glad for the progression of her life. This is the movement of life that cannot be stopped, and it’s inevitability is what makes it acceptable to Lionel. These are how the tracks are laid, and he must drive the train.