35 Shots of Rum is boring - and I reckon even its writer-director Claire Denis knows that. Her last film - The Intruder - wasn't much different. Saying that, there's warmth and sweetness to be found in the barely-there plot.
The story follows Lionel (Descas), a downtrodden French train driver, who lives with his university student daughter Josephine (Diop) in an apartment block. Next-door lives kindly taxi driver Gabrielle (Douge) who has harboured feelings for Lionel for years, and acts as a mother figure to Josephine. Josephine has an on-off relationship with Noe (Colin), the handsome rambler who lives upstairs. The relationship between these four is the basis of the story.
35 Shots of Rum is more an exploration in character and how we communicate with and touch each other than a story; the enjoyment comes in the little moments in life that the audience will recognise and empathise with. There's a long scene near the opening where Lionel and Josephine prepare and eat dinner together: there's not much in the way of action or dialogue - just two people so comfortable with each other that chitchat is unnecessary. This says more about their relationship than anything else and it's in moments like these, these lovely, underwritten and understated scenes, that Denis's film works. Another, a house party scene played out with no dialogue (just The Commodores's 'Nightshift') is beautiful and displays Denis's talent for the old adage 'less is more'.
However, the film is so unassuming it's almost dead: it would work better if these scenes were the exception but every character here is played out in the same way. Douge's Gabrielle is a bit of a talker, but she's underused and largely ignored by the characters. Denis leaves so much unexplained for so long - why doesn't Joséphine commit to Noe, why is Noe always on the road, where has Lionel's wife gone, and why is it called 35 Shots of Rum? We find out all before the end but it's hardly worth sticking around for.