The beautiful and heartbreaking plot culminates in a party at and around a country house, and Assayas's sustained treatment of this event—the raging bonfire, the dope, the music and dancing—truly catches you by the throat. The drifting, circling handheld camera of Irma Vep is equally in evidence here, moving among characters with the nervous energy of a moth, showing us their isolation as well as their moments of union. One of the key French films of the 90s.
Through similar dissociative leaps, Bresson [in The Devil, Probably] focuses, penetrates, while Assayas [in Cold Water] flits by. Both films seem to create similar textural boundaries, yet while Bresson’s edits remain victim to them, Assayas’s camera soars past their perimeters. And it’s in this breaking free of formal restriction that Assayas unites his unassuming technical audacity with his thematic yearning and youthful restlessness.
Jake Mulligan rightly compares Assayas to Pialat, and I thought of the Dardennes, which is to say Assayas has a striking immediacy to his images and his long takes. But unlike the Dardennes, who are rushing to get to their next composition, Assayas takes pleasure in the strageness of surfaces—how hard surfaces and soft surfaces collide and interact (there's no DVD, but this is a film than demands a 35mm projection). Can't recall another film so obsessed with the look of walls.