Joy of Man’s Desiring Screen 12 articles

Joy of Man’s Desiring


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  • The extended montage of machines in close-up that follows the opening monologue of Man’s Desiring suggests the entire film might consist of nothing but such images. I would have welcomed it. Trouble is, while experimentation of this sort ought to bring its own discipline, Côté seemingly felt the need to anchor the work once more to a more relatably human (i.e., narrative) arena. It isn’t long before characters begin to talk to one another. The result is uneven...

  • Occasionally, Côté seems on the verge of approaching an interesting equation between the work of acting (or filmmaking) and manual labour, but he never pushes this tension as surreally far as Leos Carax does in Holy Motors (2012). Instead, actors and workers co-exist but never seem to interact. The former tend to be laconic, while the latter are for the most part ill at ease around Côté’s camera. Whatever made Bestiaire so eerily revealing... is missing in Côté’s more recent film.

  • It could well be that closer study of what’s said and how it’s said might reveal something more, but for the time being, from what I could glean the first time around, Joy isn’t, overall, as challenging or engaging as the film by Côté it most closely resembles, Bestiaire.

  • With its frequent stationary portraits and study of the observed and observer, the film in part makes for a nice companion to Côté’s 2012’s breakthrough, Bestiaire. Where that film derived an improbable narrative tension through deliberate framing, however, The Joy of Man’s Desiring weaves its machinery-interrupted, monologue-heavy vignettes into a late-breaking rumination on naturally selective conveniences amongst the factory routine.

  • Denis Côté’s ironically titled Joy of Man’s Desiring (Canada) is a subtly corrosive gaze at the soul-defeating nature of labor, which is personified here as a seductive woman (Emilie Sigouin) who promises everything in exchange for devotion, only to turn into a vengeful ogress if she is not efficiently served.

  • As always, Côté's approach is itself founded on an amalgamation of contrasting methods, the drably mundane glossed up with pictoral elegance, borrowing from the early avant-garde's fascination with industrial automation, the glacial pacing of modern slow cinema and the dialectical economic analyses of filmmakers like Godard, particularly the similarly set pageantry of Tout va Bien.

  • Mr. Côté comes closer here to his 2012 study of animals, “Bestiaire,” than to his recent drama “Vic + Flo Saw a Bear.” As with his other features, brevity — in this case, 1 hour 10 minutes — has a way of making the film seem minor. It’s a little diffuse, but it suggests that Mr. Côté is trying out a sketch, with more experiments to come.

  • Like Bestiare, whose imagery associates humans with animals, this is chiefly an experiential exercise; the amazing sound design, courtesy of Frédéric Cloutier and Clovis Gouaillier, turns the mechanical clang into arrhythmic music, making the toil seem like dancing.

  • The fun is in Côté’s clever camera set-ups and scrupulous sound design, which create immersive environments whose nooks and crannies are imbued with excitement and dynamism. Even if it’s forbiddingly austere at times, Joy of Man’s Desiring is finally a study in different kinds of beauty—human, mechanical, and musical (the Bach cantata that gives its title makes a welcome appearance)—and the work of a filmmaker whose every move from film to film feels free.

  • While always absorbing, Joy of Man's Desiring also allows space for the spectator's thoughts to drift — on how, for example, the very notion of what constitutes work seems irrevocably vitiated now that "social-media strategizing" is a legitimate (and potentially lucrative) career choice. No matter how humble, the tasks of the various laborers and artisans shown in Côté's film have an inherent drama and spectacle that the assignments of brand-management specialists do not.

  • The sum of this effect, that the mechanization of thought manifests from the work itself, becomes entrancing. It’s this ostensibly paradoxical structure, contrived narrative interspersed with observational documentary, that distinguishes Côté as a filmmaker, and Joy of Man’s Desiring, as a more heady examination of the toll of this unavoidably classist work-to-live lifestyle.

  • After seeing the film two or three times, I was so impressed with Côté’s audacious mixture of real events and lightly staged fictional sequences to create an entirely alternate reality that I contacted him, and asked if he would discuss the film with me; he agreed.

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