L'Eau froide

Cold water

Director: Olivier Assayas
Year: 1994
Country: France
Running time: 92 mins
Screenplay: Olivier Assayas
Production co: IMA
Producers: Georges Benayoun, Paul Rozenberg
Photography: Denis Lenoir
Editor: Luc Barnier
Sets: Gilbert Gagneux
Sound: Hervé Chauvel
Music: Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Nico, Roxy Music, Leonard Cohen et al

Christine: Virginie Ledoyen
Gilles: Cyprien Fouquet
Gilles' father: Laszlo Szabo
Christine's mother: Dominique Faysse
Christine's father: Jackie Berroyer
Marie: Ilona Györi
Inspector: Jean-Pierre Darroussin
Mourad: Smaïl Mekki
Teacher: Jean-Christophe Bouvet
Nurse: Renée Amzallag

Festivals: Cannes, Toronto, New York, London, 1994. Rotterdam, Melbourne, 1995.

Olivier Assayas's extraordinary contribution to the Tous les garçons... series transcribes teen trouble into a desolate, wintry blast. His is also the one film in the series that invests its party scene with the significance and the raw vitality of a raging tribal rite. Though there's a story of sorts - there has to be to achieve the required reunion scene - Assayas is less interested in telling it than in expressing the troubled souls of his characters. In the film's first section he infects his audience with the uncertainties and the disgust of his deeply disillusioned heroine, an utterly convincing Virginie Ledoyen. Her father's response to her `emotional disturbance' has been to prescribe drugs and counsellors. Her friend Gilles, on the other hand, suffers the restrictions of an over-protective father.
A restless, nervy camera catches them on the move, as they shoplift some records, lie to police, bicker with parents, make their escape. This edginess is exploded with gratifying violence in the climactic party scene around a bonfire with expertly selected Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Nico, Roxy Music very, very loud on the soundtrack. Any vestige of naturalism is abandoned in the film's concluding sequences on the banks of an icy river. The final scene has a chilling grandeur that verges on the operatic - except that it is unsettlingly unclear what happens.

L'Eau froide exalts teenage despair with unerring precision. Its validation of teen spirit is like a gift from '90s youth culture back to the '70s. It is no surprise that 40-year-old Assayas, himself a former critic, is the current favourite of the young French critics.