JUST A SIGH (Le temps de l'aventure) B
France Belgium Ireland (105 mi) 2013 d: Jérôme Bonnell
France Belgium Ireland (105 mi) 2013 d: Jérôme Bonnell
This is the kind of film that is stereotypically French, where one comes to assume that one of the favorite film subjects of the French is adultery and illicit love affairs, where this could just as easily have been called Love In the Afternoon, but both Billy Wilder (1957) and Eric Rohmer (1972) already nabbed that title. Who knows where this sappy American title comes from, as the French version, The Time of the Adventure, has much more of a mysterious sounding allure. Claire Denis’s FRIDAY NIGHT (2002), another variation on the same theme, gets directly to the point and may be considered a groundbreaking work, but this film about a sexual liason plays out more like an afternoon reverie, a daydream of wish fulfillment fantasy, where the kind of thing that never happens, by a strange act of fate, actually happens, with two strangers whose eyes meet on a train, always averting their looks, who speak just for a brief moment afterwards, only asking for directions, and then part, presumably fading into one of many forgotten moments in the course of any given day. Written with actress Emmanuelle Devos in mind, she is in nearly every shot of the film and offers a tour-de-force performance, showing a great range of expression, much freer, more vulnerable, and funnier than we’re used to seeing her, where she’s the risk taker. The object of her gaze is Gabriel Byrne, an Englishman whose name she never learns until the end, but his face remains a fixture in her imagination before running off to a rather wretched audition that leaves her feeling empty and dissatisfied with herself. Having taken the early morning train from Calais to Paris, she’s expected back for an evening performance of Ibsen’s Lady from the Sea, where we see her walk onto the stage, but never see her perform in a play about having to choose between two men, which is essentially what this film is about as well, playing what amounts to a variation on a similar theme.
The film has an exquisite classical structure, making great use of the music of Vivaldi and occasional sacred chorales from Verdi, which becomes equated with unspoken states of mind. Devos plays Alix as a still attractive middle-aged woman continually frustrated at being unable to connect to her boyfriend’s cell phone, which is aways forwarded to voicemail, and with the pent-up energy from the disastrous audition, remains restless, and curiously wanders over to the location of the earlier overheard directions, which turns out to be a church where a funeral is taking place, where she easily blends into the crowd and discovers the face she saw on the train suddenly staring back at her with an astonishing look. After the service, people gravitate to a nearby bar, where Alix has become the ear to nonstop chatter about the deceased from one of the well wishers (Gilles Privat), growing absurdly humorous as she has to continually pretend how well she knew the deceased, finally taking refuge on the sidewalk where she joins the handsome Englishman for a cigarette. While there are multiple opportunities for each to go their separate ways, Alix is seen dawdling in front of his hotel, which, of course leads them both to take the plunge, becoming a sophisticated affair, where the bedroom conversation is quietly honest and unpretentious, but not without moments of humor, such as when Alix acts out what she does for a living. While he is married with children, Alix remains unable to reach her boyfriend, continuing her feeling of disconnect. Rather than immediately take the train back afterwards, she decides to visit her wealthy sister (Aurélia Petit), living in a lavish estate behind a locked iron gate, who presumes she’s there to borrow money, which she is, as her bank card failed at a cash machine. This family visit turns into a full blown farce when the tone grows more and more condescending, eventually inspiring competitive jealousy and scene stealing theatrics from her sister that earns a bravado from Alix, as the scene was so spectacularly overplayed. Afterwards, of course, she drifts back to the hotel.
Many will find this kind of rhapsodic adventure to be romantic, others might think it stereotypical, but it certainly becomes all too predictable after awhile, as the same theme is repeated throughout. Much like Richard Linklater’s bustling romantic trilogy, Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004), and Before Midnight (2013), the couple walks hand in hand through the streets of Paris where an international music festival is taking place, all of which adds kinetic energy and an immersion into a kind of unreal landscape, suddenly overflowing with party revelers all celebrating some mysterious event, which may as well be this romantic affair, becoming melodramatically overblown in order to sustain the level of interest throughout. For all practical purposes, this remains Alix’s story and her adventure, where much like FRIDAY NIGHT (Vendredi Soir), it’s the portrait of a female protagonist who enters into an affair guilt free, as an act of personal liberation, a temporary means to rise above what feels like a stifling relationship with her own boyfriend (who we never see, but only hear on the phone). Alix allows herself sexual expression as circumstances permit, as she never set out to seduce anyone, but allows herself to become involved in a kind of play acting, like a continuation of her morning audition, hoping to improve upon her performance. In this way, instead of a typically male oriented fantasy, whatever erotic charge is what she puts into the moment, and Devos is wonderfully off balance throughout, providing a flair for lighthearted spontaneity and personal warmth, not to mention a healthy degree of curiosity, becoming as much about herself as whatever it is she hopes to discover. It certainly rekindles a kind of passion that has been kept in reserve all too long, where the question becomes what does she intend to do with it, and with whom? Perhaps due to language barriers, their dialogue throughout is in English, which is unusual to say the least in a French film, and may actually be a distraction, losing a degree of naturalness in her character. Much of the overall experience is wordless, relying upon shifting atmospheric moods, where the film has an elegance about it, but feels strangely somber, never delving very deeply into either one’s character, knowing next to nothing about one another, which is perhaps the point, but then it never rises to a level of great heights and remains only a fantasy.