French director Alain Guiraudie’s No Rest for the Brave is a deadpan, volatile shape-shifter that utterly defies taxonomy. Morphing from a sleep-deprived slacker comedy to a boho-rustic polysexual fantasy to a semi-slapstick gangster road movie, this remarkable first feature is perhaps best understood as an existential coming-of-age odyssey in which a young hero goes on the run from death, only to confront the inescapable fact of mortality. “Every story has already been told, and it’s only through tone that I can bring out something new,” says Guiraudie (who will be present for a Q&A at BAM Saturday). “What I don’t understand is why people don’t mix genres more after a hundred years of cinema.”
No stoner reverie despite its dream-within-dream fuzziness, No Rest doesn’t so much blur fantasy and reality as establish a delicate, disconcerting tension between the two. The movie seems to unfold in a parallel universe, a rural France where sleepy hollows are named for far-flung metropolises, spelled to conform with French pronunciation as if in an Oulipian game (Buenauzerez, Riaux de Jannerot, Glasgaud). “I make movies in order to reconstitute the world,” says Guiraudie. “I shoot in the southwest of France, where I live, but I rework its geography to fit a global scale. I also recompose situations and relationships to achieve something more dreamlike. You get the sense of a world that is out of sync.”
That said, No Rest remains grounded in a particular social and economic reality. “I was reacting against a certain kind of French cinema—urban, set indoors, bourgeois.” says Guiraudie. “I need to make films that take place outside and are by nature ‘populist’ . . . my characters have difficulty paying their bills and finding work.” His 50-minute featurette, That Old Dream That Moves (New York Film Festival, 2001), was set among the skeleton crew of a closing factory, and even as its sober social realism turned unexpectedly hot and heavy, the hard facts of underemployment stayed front and center.
Characterized by a complete absence of foreshadowing, Guiraudie’s films are premised on the unexpected harmony between discordant elements. His quaint neo-surrealism effectively reconnects a debased language—the bastard vernacular of advertising—to its political imperative. “Surrealism is by definition engaged in social reality,” says Guiraudie. “Dreams are fed by reality, and in turn shine a new light on reality. Cinema must not content itself with copying life. It’s necessary to sublimate the daily grind and to bridge the gap between reality and utopia. We have to try, in any event.”