Sunday, November 09, 2008

Vendredi soir

2002, France, directed by Claire Denis

Although it's exceptionally atmospheric, and lushly beautiful at times, Vendredi soir feels like a minor entry in Claire Denis's oeuvre. It has less resonance than films like Beau travail or US Go Home, perhaps partly because her characters are such blank slates, with little existence beyond the fringes of the film, while the running time ultimately feels over-extended, as if it surpasses what she has to say on this occasion.

The film takes place over twelve hours or so, in the midst of a Paris transport strike, narrating the briefest of trysts between Laure (Valérie Lemercier - best known as a comic actress, and an interesting, and successful, choice here), who is trying to cross Paris by car, and Jean (Vincent Lindon), the hitchhiker she picks up (in almost every sense, ultimately). It's a tryst that taps into a not-uncommon fantasy and it may, indeed, be entirely within Laure's imagination; there are worse ways to while away the boredom of being trapped in traffic.

Laure does at least have the benefit of a modicum of back-story, via a fleeting introduction and an even more fleeting coda; the film begins with her lover's voice on an answering machine, a little like the disembodied voice which speaks to the young woman at the beginning of Denis's earlier Keep It For Yourself. Jean, however, exists almost entirely in terms of how Laure sees him, and since the characters barely speak to one another, we as the audience learn little about him (he exists more as a set of physical impressions, whether it's through his exhilarating style of driving, his languid smoking, his raspy voice, his soft-edged smile).

Plot is not the key concern here: rather, we understand this Friday evening in terms of its sensual textures, whether it be in the discreetly-filmed love scenes, or the colours and sounds of a gridlocked Paris. Denis does capture the feel of the city in a form of benign lockdown with remarkable skill - I lived in Paris through the major 1995 transport strike, and there was a sense in which strangers became accomplices in navigating the clogged streets - and yet at times it's hard not to feel that watching someone stuck in traffic is not a whole lot more interesting than being stuck in traffic. Denis keeps the viewer in the car longer than is perhaps warranted, though it's also a form of tease for what's to come.

(The film was shown at the Harvard Film Archive as part of a Denis retrospective: is it just me, or would it have been a nice touch of humour to screen the film on Friday rather than, as the HFA chose, on Saturday?)

1 comment:

layoder said...

You are going nuts on Claire Denis lately, huh? I clearly need to catch up in a serious way. I've been spending too much time on Heidi and Spencer!



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