By Don Simpson | January 10, 2012
Director: Jean-Jacques Beineix
Writers: Jean-Jacques Beineix, Olivier Mergault, David Goodis (Novel)
Starring: Gérard Depardieu, Nastassja Kinski, Victoria Abril, Bertice Reading, Gabriel Monnet, Dominique Pinon, Milena Vukotic, Vittorio Mezzogiorno, Bernard Farcy, Anne-Marie Coffinet, Jacques Herlin, Guido Alberti, Katia Berger
Imagine a Sirkian melodrama soaked in a sinister Lynchian universe and filmed as a surreal hybrid of Delicatessen and Blade Runner… That is essentially Jean-Jacques Beineix’s The Moon in the Gutter (1983). Beineix’s artful follow-up to the critical success of his feature-length debut, Diva (1981), is pure eye-candy; heavy on mood and atmosphere, light on story. I suspect it is the nonsensical character development and overtly melodramatic performances that once prompted Ebert to criticize that the film’s “characters are essentially just part of the visual compositions.” Ebert’s assessment is basically true, but I do not necessarily perceive it as a bad thing…
I find The Moon in the Gutter to be relatively honest to what we might refer to as the romantic crime melodrama genre, if such a sub-genre actually exists. Based on a novel by David Goodis (the pulp writer who provided the story for Shoot the Piano Player), The Moon in the Gutter yearns to evoke the classic 1940s Hollywood film noir aesthetic (ala Night and the City and The Third Man); replacing the sharp contrast of the blacks and whites of the 1940s with a murky color palate that is artfully accented with bright colors bleeding from fluorescent lights. It is the strange and novel visualization of this seedy, post modern seaport that transports Beineix’s film to a time and place somewhere in between cinema’s past (A Streetcar Named Desire) and cinema’s future (Blade Runner).
The rich have a strange fascination with the poor in The Moon in the Gutter. It is as if the working class squalor of the seaport represents a unique brand of freedom for the wealthy; a place where they can escape from the all-too-easy lifestyles of their own reality by way of cheap booze and sex. The upper class may or may not know (or care) that this is a dangerous place — one (or more) of the wealthy may or may not have been involved in the rape and subsequent death of Gérard’s (Gérard Depardieu) sister.
Haunted by the ghost of not knowing exactly who is responsible for his sister’s death, Gérard seems destined to return to the scene of the crime time after time, as if his life is stuck in an endless loop. Eventually, the visually intoxicating Loretta (Nastassja Kinski) enters the picture and snaps Gérard out of the morose quagmire of his so-called existence and propels him to — as a billboard blatantly announces — “Try Another World”; but when it begins to appear that Loretta may know something about the death of Gérard’s sister, Gérard is catapulted right back to the brutal reality his horrible life. Poor Gérard, I suspect that everyone in this film knows the truth except for him; and, for whatever reason, no one is talking…
Besides the luscious cinematography (Philippe Rousselot) and the fantastic world that Beineix is able to create, The Moon in the Gutter is worth watching for Gérard Depardieu’s powerful lead performance. Depardieu is an incredible physical presence, a barrel-chested monster of a man reminiscent of Marlon Brando circa A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and On the Waterfront (1954). Nastassja Kinski is as feminine as Depardieu is masculine. Part femme fatale and part heroine, Kinski plays her role as Loretta with equal amounts naïve innocence and seductive desire; exuding unbridled femininity and sexuality, her facial expressions alone are enough to induce an involuntary orgasm.
The Moon in the Gutter is now available on high definition Blu-ray thanks to Cinema Libre Studio. The Blu-ray also includes Mr. Michel’s Dog (Beineix’s first short film) and an interview with Jean-Jacques Beineix conducted by Tim Rhys (Publisher of MovieMaker Magazine).