By Daniel Barnes
*Opens Friday, May 4, at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco.
Unreleased and unavailable for decades, writer-director Olivier Assayas’ harsh coming-of-age story Cold Water gets the 4K treatment just in time to feed my growing obsession with the filmmaker. Originally created for French television, the film stars Virginie Ledoyen (best known to American audiences as the female lead in 2000’s The Beach) and Cyprien Fouquet as Gilles and Christine, troubled teenage lovers in the early 1970s suburbs. With the youthful idealism of May 1968 already mutated into rock-and-roll nihilism, the disaffected duo steals records and sticks of dynamites, while their parents are defined mainly by their absence and impotence. The centerpiece of Cold Water is a long party sequence at an abandoned house in the woods, with the energy growing increasingly frenzied and destructive as the American guitar rock gets louder. This sequence would echo back over a decade later at the end of Assayas’ Summer Hours, but don’t get the idea that Cold Water is a completists-only piece of juvenilia – this is a mature, fully formed work, seductive and bewildering in a way we have come to expect from Assayas, with his curious camera always moving, always searching, always wondering, always asking. While the performances here don’t quite match the potency found in his later films (Virginie Ledoyen is good, but she’s certainly no Maggie Cheung/Juliette Binoche/Kristen Stewart), Cold Water is still essential Assayas.