Wednesday 13 March 2024

BFI Flare 2024: The Blue Shelter

Today marks the start of this year's BFI Flare, which gets underway with two screenings of Amrou Al-Kadhi's debut feature Layla—a film that serves as the festival's opening night gala.  But tomorrow is when the event gets properly up and running, with Flare 2024's first full day offering up films such as the eagerly anticipated Dutch-British co-production Silver Haze, Sav Rodgers' uplifting documentary Chasing Chasing Amy, Orthodox feature Unspoken, and Elliot Page-starrer Close to You.  While feature films are very much the festival's bread and butter, shorts are by no means neglected by Flare; indeed, short films have their own dedicated strand—where, typically, several thematically linked works are combined to form a programme which lasts roughly the equivalent length of a standard feature. 

One such programme—and there are 11 in total at this year's festival—is Cosmic Dreams: Through the Looking Glass, which screens tomorrow evening in BFI Southbank's NFT3; this particular collection is one of three shorts programmes playing on Thursday, the others being A Taste of Spain and Methods for Facing a Hostile WorldCosmic Dreams plays home to Jérémy Piette's dreamy, elegiac The Blue Shelter (Le Garçon qui la nuit), which takes its place alongside Joana de Sousa's Between Light and Nowhere (Entre a Luz e o Nada), Alden Peters' Friends of Sophia (see trailer below), Jeanette Buck's Safety State, Antonia Luxem's On Falling, and Frankie Fox's Goodbye Python.  With a running time of 26 minutes, The Blue Shelter is fractionally the longest of the half-dozen films included in Cosmic Dreams: Through the Looking Glass, and certainly the most memorable.

Piette's film centres on Arthur, a young man quietly dreading the end of summer.  Arthur and his friends are enjoying a languid day at a sun-kissed Breton beach, where they spend their time reading, drinking and taking occasional dips in the sea.  Not far from the group, a lone sunbather proves somewhat distracting for the pensive Arthur, who attempts to take a beer over to the man until he's talked out of it.  As the day wears on, the friends join in a mass singalong to Robi's "On ne meurt plus d'amour", a rendition as joyous as it is wistful.  The Blue Shelter subsequently takes a left turn into magical realism as Arthur is separated from his friends and enters a vaguely unsettling crepuscular world; this surreal closing sequence is soundtracked by a haunting interpretation of another well-known song: Brigitte Fontaine and Areski's "J'ai 26 ans".  

Given the two very different halves of this film, Jérémy Piette proves most adept at stitching them into a cohesive whole, and his skill in doing so should not be underestimated (cf. Boléro, another short from this year's Flare, which founders in its attempt to change tack midway through).  Parallels have been drawn between The Blue Shelter and the sweaty, leery films of Abdellatif Kechiche, but such comparisons seem both wide of the mark and lazy.  Rather, Piette's film appears to be more influenced by the work of François Ozon and Jacques Rivette, with a splash of Steven Arnold's Luminous Procuress thrown in for good measure.  The Blue Shelter—whose warm, tactile Super 16mm cinematography recalls that of Christian Avilés' similarly lengthed La herida luminosa—is a fine, ambitious debut, one which captures the essence of a summer that is anything but endless.     

Darren Arnold

Images: BFI