The Smell of Us Sept 7, 2016 0:36:25 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Sept 7, 2016 0:36:25 GMT -5
The Smell of Us (2014)
Directed by: Larry Clark
Directed by: Larry Clark
It's both a blessing and a curse that the kind of acts profiled in Larry Clark's Kids and Ken Park have largely become staple-events in your average, run-of-the-mill raunchy comedy in recent years. While it does indeed normalize the kind of frequently caustic, teen antics - underage sex, bingedrinking, substance abuse, and more - to the point where films can start really focusing on what is happening in the real world, in some way, it does diminish the impact of the original work. While I'd argue that Kids, Ken Park, and even Clark's massively underrated Bully and Marfa Girl, bear strikingly raw elements that aren't easily found in other films, his projects have taken a noticeable hit with the promotion and existence of other graphic content.
That's why I find Clark's contemporary projects more interesting on their basis of existence in the form of one-sentence summaries and vague ideas that have not yet manifested into fully formed ideas that Clark shoots off in interviews. He has to continuously find ways to up the ante on his works while remaining true to his style. Having said that, while The Smell of Us, Clark's most recent film, shot on-location in France and in French, bears Clark's style, it's lacking in just about every other facet of filmmaking. This is a grueling watch from start to finish, the work of an artist who was once so in-tuned with his culture, he could walk on-set and act as if he were born in that specific setting; now, it would appear as if Clark is nudging through crowds to try and get a serviceable shot at the life he once lived.
That's the entirety of The Smell of Us in terms of how it feels as a symbolic representation of Clark's career, which is one of the books, if you ask me. The film, as stated, takes place on France, focusing on Clark's favorite subjects - disaffected teenage skateboarders, similar to the ones in Wassup Rockers and Marfa Girl, his most recent film, with the twist being that one of them is seriously aspiring to work as a gay prostitute in order to fund his daily life. The young teen's name is Mathias (Lukas Ionesco), despite going by "Math," and boasts curly, dirty-blonde locks as he gets by on his angelic look when engaging in sex with older men. Math is the ideal male fantasy, with his semi-muscular build, toned jaw, and eye-catching physique; his body is almost hairless, prompting the look of innocence, and Clark hints more than once at the inevitability that Math will turn into this kind of older man if he continues on this path.
Math's best friend is J.P. (Hugo Behar-Thinieres), who has a habit of prostitution as well. With a scrawnier build and darker hair, J.P. does what he does for basic acceptance of his closest peer, Math, whom he also has a crush on. When he sees his best friend turn to homosexual prostitution, he assumes it's his way of expressing the kind of love he wants for himself, until Math's mother (Dominique Frot) caustically claims that her son only does what he does for a quick buck.
A lot of this is interpretative on my behalf, and extracted after a fair amount of research I did after sitting through the eighty-four minute film. That's because The Smell of Us gives the audience so desperately little to work with. Shot with sloppiness that takes Clark's trademark disorganized aesthetic to a more unacceptable level and with few conversations taking place between the film's characters, by the time the credits roll, we still don't know a great deal about Math and J.P., let alone their circle of friends. Clark shows up as a bum they nickname "Rockstar," and eventually as one of Math's tricks who has an insatiable foot fetish. Is he also Rockstar? The film never makes the claim. The opening sequences of Math and his pals popping ollies over Rockstar's sleeping and eventually army-crawling, scaly body provide for some of the most memorable scenes in the film.
The Smell of Us really fails as a film simply by the fact that it doesn't give audiences a great deal to work with. Kids gave us a gut-turning premise, on top of numerous dialogs between youthful cast-members that made it feel as if we were watching a documentary straight from the gutter. Ken Park highlighted a slew of sexual perversions that disgusted us as much as they eroticized the acts themselves, while Bully made us try to wrack our brain and justify murder as if we were in the shoes of the hapless characters. Even Clark's other films, like Another Day in Paradise, Wassup Rockers, and Marfa Girl, thrust us into specific settings and situations that boldly forced us to come to terms and rationalize what we were seeing.
The Smell of Us just doesn't do that to an adequate degree; it's a painfully mediocre drama with dizzying videography and an empty interior outside of anything that isn't symbolic. Clark's talents reside in human relationships that reside in the ugly, miserable sectors of life, but this is the first time that his approach, comfort-zone, and maybe even his subjects, really failed him on a remarkable level.
Starring: Lukas Ionesco, Hugo Behar-Thinieres, Diane Rouxel, Théo Cholbi, and Larry Clark. Directed by: Larry Clark.