The Early Films of Olivier Assayas Review
The appearance of Kristen Stewart in Olivier Assayas's last two features – Clouds of Sils Maria and Personal Shopper – have done much to boost the global profile of the film critic turned filmmaker. But Assayas has been making movies in his native France for more than 30 years. From the bourgeois family drama of Summer Hours (2008) to twisty thrillers such as Demonlover (2002) and Boarding Gate (2007), via teen romance Cold Water (1994) and epic made-for-TV crime biopic Carlos (2010), the auteur takes risks and has proved adept at reinventing himself time and again.
The Early Films takes us right back to the very start of Assayas's career as a writer/director, presenting his debut and sophomore features – Disorder (1986) and Winter’s Child (1988) – in the UK for the first time. Both deal with jealousy, guilt and self-destructiveness, and how a single decision taken impetuously can utterly transform the rest of one’s life.
In Disorder (1986), Yves (Wadeck Stanczak) and Henri (Lucas Belvaux), two members of a post-punk band, and Anne (Ann-Gisel Glass), the girlfriend they share, break into a music store after it closes to steal instruments. They expect the place to be empty, but tragedy ensues when the owner appears. The rest of the film deals with the fall-out from the failed robbery, as the band members and their entourage struggle to hold it together while preparing for gigs in London and the possibility of a major deal.
Music often features heavily in Assayas’s films and, in an interview included in the extras here, he mentions Joy Division as an influence on Disorder. But while the legendary Manchester band were a perfect storm of the beautiful and the bleak, the film offers far too much of the latter. It never quite lives up to its thrillingly violent opening moments either and, even at a lean 88 minutes, soon becomes a bit messy and sprawling with too many characters, not all of them well defined and few of them likeable.
Disorder is ambitious (the action moves from Paris to London and New York) and confidently directed but is clearly the work of a filmmaker still finding his feet.
Winter’s Child is better and more focussed, with a smaller cast and characters that feel fully realised. Natalia (Marie Matheron) is struggling through a difficult pregnancy, but the child’s father, Stéphane (Michel Feller), leaves her shortly before she goes into labour. He meets set-designer Sabine (Clotilde de Bayser) and falls in love with her, but she is still entangled with actor Bruno (Jean-Philippe Écoffey). It’s an emotional rollercoaster, all right, but perfectly captures the ugliness and capriciousness of love and lust, despite occasionally tipping over into the kind of histrionics seen in Disorder. Assayas will eventually prove himself adept at coaxing real emotional subtlety out of his actors (Kristen Stewart in Clouds of Sils Maria and Charles Berling in Summer Hours spring to mind) and this is very much a first step in that direction.
The disc offers brand new 2K restorations of both films, supervised and approved by Assayas himself. The aforementioned interview features the director at his most articulate and effusive, discussing his route into filmmaking after working as a critic for Cahiers du Cinéma, the influence of Robert Bresson on his work and his teenage obsession with London.
There’s also an interview with Stanczak, Belvaux and Glass – plus fellow cast member Rémi Martin – about Disorder and trailers for both films. A photo-packed collectors booklet featuring a couple of perceptive new essays rounds off a decent collection of material.