#014 — Après Moi, le Déluge

Hi, hello, how are you? Right at this very moment you are reading Tendrils, your weekly dose of notes from me, Adam Wood, here in a corner of Oxford where I made the mistake of reading the news, then immediately had to spend an hour tweaking music metadata so as to feel as though the world isn’t entirely 100% irredeemably terrible.

I’ve been told these missives are sometimes on the unwieldy side, and that’s OK with me if it’s OK with you. Take what you want from them; leave the rest.

This week I watched Jacques Audiard’s latest: Les Olympiades / Paris, 13th District (2021). In truth, though I’ve liked a couple of Audiard’s films quite a bit (A Prophet (2009); The Sisters Brothers (2018)) the real pull of this film for me came from a couple of other contributors. I went on a mini Céline Sciamma binge earlier this year: having been surprised by how much I loved Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019), I went back to its (kinda, sorta) precursor in Sciamma’s catalogue as director: Water Lilies (2007), a sensitively written, admirably acted first draft of the themes of unrequited love between women. I also dove into Petite Maman (2021), which I found surprising and delightful on just about every level. (Writing this has reminded me that I intended to get around to Ma vie de Courgette / My Life as a Courgette (2016) — for which Sciamma wrote the screenplay — but have not yet done so.)

Sciamma is on screenplay duties here also (alongside other collaborators), and the other real attraction of the film for me is the material she’s adapting: three stories from one of my long-time favourite creators in comics, Adrian Tomine.

I should say upfront [he writes, whilst editing and re-sequencing this paragraph] that I found the film, taken on its own merits, to be compelling work. The performances are uniformly good (perhaps the best of a strong bunch, Noémie Merlant, who also shone in Sciamma’s Portrait…); the choice — by Audiard, and cinematographer Paul Guilhaume — to shoot in black & white, lends the streets and appartements of modern Paris a cleanliness and neatness. As the characters come together and bounce off one another, the script doesn’t confuse personal upheaval with melodrama, allowing the film to be an even-handed study of different forms of loneliness and struggle in the big city.

I, however, couldn’t help but think of the film in terms of it being an adaptation. It’s a fascinating challenge, to take three pieces that — in Tomine’s original form — do not overlap, and to force them into closer proximity to one another — whilst also transplanting them to Paris! The screenplay liberally replaces characters, and merges others, so as to tie both the stories together, and its cast of characters in a neat little knot, which is fun to watch unravel and cinch back together. Having finished the film, I went back and read the three stories in question (‘Hawaiian Getaway’ from Summer Blonde (2002); ‘Amber Sweet’ & ‘Killing and Dying’ from Killing and Dying (2015)). For me, the contrast elevated the sweetness of Tomine’s work. Whilst not at all saccharine, I find Tomine’s authorial perspective kind of tender: he sees the best in his characters, even when they are at their worst. There were also a couple of plot beats (Hillary’s ‘hobby’ in ‘Hawaiian Getaway’) and relationships (Jesse’s with her father in ‘Killing and Dying’) that I loved on the page, and thus missed on the screen. I’m intentionally not spoiling those things here in the hope that you’ll try and seek the books out. As I hope is clear, I also recommend Audiard’s film — you could take them in either order, without compromising your experience of the other.

As an aside: when moving abroad in 2016, I sold a few of my books, and donated the rest to local libraries. In the years since, my partner and I have amassed a few shelves’ worth again, but the idea of building a large collection no longer holds the uncomplicated appeal that it once did for me. With occasional exceptions made for authors I truly love, I tend to hold out for the paperback publication of novels these days, and pass on or donate them after reading; I also haunt Oxford’s (excellent) libraries, and read quite a bit on an e-reader (feeling no small amount of shame when picking up a book for an economically inviable price such as 99p — honestly, every time it feels like thumbing my nose at both author & publisher). I think I’m correct in saying that there’s only one author of more than three books, whose works I have a complete, physical collection of: Adrian Tomine. I find reading comics on an iPad to be perfectly enjoyable for the most part, and frustrating where it compromises the artists’ intentions vis-à-vis layout etc. Tomine’s books (largely from Faber, and also (the excellently named) specialist US comics publisher Drawn & Quarterly) are fun physical objects, with worthwhile attention paid to considerations such as their ideal sizing — I particularly like that hardcover edition of Killing and Dying pictured above, with its transparent slipcase.

Second aside: whilst re-reading the Tomine stories, I was also revisiting the album Adore Life (2016) by Savages, whose frontwoman (Jehnny Beth) has a prominent acting role in Paris, 13th District — my multitasking here no less impressive than her talent across disciplines, I’m sure you’ll agree.

• • •

Did someone say bullets?

Pokémon shoes from Clarks (NB. not shoes for pokémon, but Pokémon-themed shoes, for humans);

• you can relax: the UK’s climate future is in safe hands (note: the unqualified ‘to deliver’ in that headline is doing a lot of work);

• ‘Oxford and Cambridge Will Oversee Likely Largest UK Repatriation of Looted Objects to Nigeria

• Daniels — the director duo behind the stunning Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022) — have signed a five-picture deal with Universal;

• music picks of the week: I enjoyed Regina Spektor’s Tiny Desk concert for NPR (despite the incessant adverts; it’s not just me, right, YouTube’s getting worse isn’t it?); and I did a little joyful backflip during my first listen to Mall Grab’s new LP What I Breathe

I will leave you here, with hope that the week ahead treats you well. Until we next speak, remember:

You must work hard to live in the present and, to finish, all the more. I do not advise the unfortunate excess of continual suffering.

Zen Caveats to The Gateless Barrier


— Adam