Patricia Mazuy’s Thrilling Outlaws

Jacques Spiesser, Sandrine Bonnaire, and Jean-François Stévenin in Patricia Mazuy’s Peaux de vaches (1989)

Three years ago, Film at Lincoln Center tried to rouse stateside interest in the work of award-winning French filmmaker Patricia Mazuy, but it wasn’t until this week that one of her features was finally picked up for distribution in the U.S. Dark Star Pictures will soon bring over Saturn Bowling, a neonoir that, according to Mazuy, draws inspiration from the work of Nicholas Ray, Nagisa Oshima, and Park Chan-wook.

When Saturn Bowling premiered in competition in Locarno this summer, Meredith Taylor called it “a moody and viciously violent police thriller that channels the savagery of the wild into a shocking story of misogyny, murder, and mutilation in the suburbs of Paris.” Mazuy’s fifth dramatic feature opens in France on Wednesday, and the Cinémathèque française is currently presenting a series of her films through Sunday.

In 1982, Mazuy was studying economics and running a ciné-club in Paris when she took a trip to the States, met Agnès Varda, and decided to reroute her career. She shot her first short in Los Angeles and began training as an editor under Sabine Mamou, who had worked on Varda’s Mur murs and Documenteur (both 1981) and was then editing Jacques Demy’s Une chambre en ville (1982). A few short years later, Mazuy coedited Vagabond (1985) with Varda.

Mazuy’s first feature, Peaux de vaches (1989), stars Sandrine Bonnaire and Jacques Spiesser as a farming couple whose lives are upended when the husband’s brother (the late Jean-François Stévenin) shows up after spending ten years behind bars for accidentally killing a man. Mazuy “imports from Jacques Rivette’s movies a psychological fog to match the pallid scrim that hangs perpetually over the French countryside,” wrote Evan Morgan in the Notebook in 2019. “The space between people is clouded, dense, and given to sudden change in shape and volume. Ever the eagle-eyed cinephile, the Night Watchman himself took notice: at one point during Claire Denis’s feature-length interview with the director, Rivette describes trekking out to the cinema to see Mazuy’s debut for the second time, drawn back by the feeling ‘that the film was leading somewhere, and the more it goes on . . . the more the relationships become both more intense and more mysterious.’”

Shot by Raoul Coutard, Peaux de vaches won the Prix George Sadoul when it premiered in the Un Certain Regard program in Cannes, but Mazuy spent several years working in television—and winning a Bronze Leopard in Locarno for Travolta and Me, an episode in the remarkable 1994 French series Tous les garçons et les filles de leur âge, which featured work by Claire Denis, Olivier Assayas, and André Téchiné—before she could get a second feature off the ground. Saint-Cyr, or The King’s Daughters (2000), stars Isabelle Huppert as Madame de Maintenon, the second wife of Louis XIV, who ran a school for girls. Featuring a score by John Cale, Saint-Cyr won the prestigious Prix Jean Vigo.

Marina Hands and Bruno Ganz play a riding champion and a trainer in Of Women and Horses (2011), and Evan Morgan noted that the premise of Paul Sanchez Is Back! (2018), Mazuy’s fourth fictional feature, “echoes, rather explicitly, the outline of her first: a notorious outlaw figure, long since disappeared, winds his way back home and disrupts the stable, battened down existence of those who've remained behind. Western iconography, subterranean and subtextual in Peaux de vaches, is here promoted to text.” Little is known about Mazuy’s next project other than that it will reunite her with Isabelle Huppert and that she will be working for the first time with Hafsia Herzi, the actor and director who first riveted audiences with her big-screen debut in Abdellatif Kechiche’s The Secret and the Grain (2007).

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