The goodbye waltz
by Anne Feuillère
- A 50-year-old man is suddenly transported back to his childhood in post-war France. Based on Jiro Taniguchi’s manga book, Sam Garbarski’s film is a beautiful journey into the past
In Sam Garbarski’s films, there is a real desire for stories, which opens the way for traditional tales and once-upon-a-time style narratives. And this desire for possible enchantments arises in characters in search of themselves, men and women who are somewhat wearied by adult life but strive to reinvent themselves. His camera never leaves them, elevates them above their petty woes through humour and mockery, and tenderly captures their movements. Following The Rashevski Tango and Irina Palm [+see also:
interview: Sam Garbarski
interview: Sébastien Delloye
film profile], A Distant Neighbourhood [+see also:
interview: Sam Garbarski
film profile] is more openly a fairytale, crazier and more poetic.
A man goes away to the provinces for two days for a comic book exhibition. His wife doesn’t kiss him goodbye, neither do his daughters. He drags his bag and himself around grey and rainy Paris. Pascal Greggory is well cast in this role; his beautiful, worn and emaciated face has the roughness of crushed pride and the tenderness of bare skin so that there is nothing wearying about it, just this powerful feeling of loneliness and fragility.
He sets off on "the strange adventure awaiting him, for which nothing had prepared him", he tells us, when by chance he takes the wrong train and ends up transported back to the railway station of his childhood, in a now more or less deserted village. Here, he is mysteriously and suddenly plunged back into his childhood, in his 14-year-old body, in a family life not yet torn apart by his father’s sudden, irreparable and mysterious departure. But he has all his wits about him, those of a man who has lived and is the same age his own father was at that time. This return to his past offers him the chance to perhaps change his past history, to escape from what he is, in short to reinvent himself.
A dreamy superimposition of images, the first words of the off-camera narration, the luminous yet mysterious musical score by the band Air are enough for A Distant Neighbourhood to carry us to the other side of the mirror. Gently floating in style, the film slowly shifts from nostalgia to melancholy, from the feeling of time past to the feeling of passing time according to the beautiful distinction made by Baudelaire. Magnificently acted and displaying beautiful cinematography that is sometimes diaphanous, sometimes luminous, A Distant Neighbourhood is structured around a rather slow pace, punctuated by static close-ups, contemplative wide-angle shots and somewhat languorous camera movements. The film cultivates a gentleness towards its subject matter, as if it shouldn’t be shaken up too much for fear of it breaking.
Like sleepers who shouldn’t be woken too quickly, the film tenuously remains in this in-between space, of dream and reality. At times, slow passages also creep into its not-so-tight narrative structure. But looser structures also enable us as viewers to dream films as we watch them, to reconstruct or invent them in our turn.
If you enjoyed the comic book, don’t expect to rediscover it in film form. The great achievement of Garbarski’s film is the way it loosely adapts this story, transposing it to a French setting, in this little mountain village, including references to post-war agreements and 1960s tones, all the while retaining the manga’s atmosphere, its delicacy, gentleness and mystery. For in the film as in the book, nothing is resolved. Nothing, except for this reconciliation with oneself, one’s life and past history. And the male character, on his return, will no longer be so transparent. That’s no mean feat, in this quietly beautiful film.
(Translated from French)