Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 12, 2003 6:33 am 
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New technology, old story

Paris labor strikes are just great for romance. At least that’s what the two French accidental-meeting love stories showing in the US lately tell us. In Claire Denis' dull-as-dishwater Vendredi Soir (Friday Evening), it’s all due to a huge transportation strike. In Danièle Thompson’s less sexy but more glamorous and fun Décalage horaire (Jet Lag), rain and fog also play a big part.

Jean Reno (Félix) and Juliette Binoche (Rose) keep bumping into each other at Charles De Gaulle when, with their separate flights both delayed, she flushes her cell phone down the toilet (let’s take a break from cell phones, eh? Especially those tiny ones) and she borrows his. From then on he gets her callbacks; and he even quite unwittingly intrudes into her dysfunctional marriage (with the always scary Sergi Lopez of With a Friend Like Harry) when the husband turns up to prevent her leaving him. There’s a premise for bother. Is it a premise for love? It takes the whole of Jet Lag to figure out.

The cell phone mix-ups are how Rose and Félix bond. He feels responsible, not attracted. The ditsy Rose, made up to the nines, is an excellent cosmetician, and the rough but handsome Félix is a chef turned frozen food czar. She’s running away from her marriage to a temporary job in Acapulco. He’s fussing over his business (Shepherd’s pie must be in plastic boxes!) while enroute to ex-wife Nadia’s parental funeral in Munich.

He’s given a room at a toney airport hotel and lets her share it with him.

This is when he accidentally splashes vinaigrette all over her and she has to clean up.

The most interesting scene in the movie comes when the made-up, glitzy, slightly tacky Madame goes into the bathroom to clean off the vinaigrette and comes out Juliette Binoche. It’s nice to see that a woman can be more glamorous without makeup.

There isn’t much more to it than that. There’s a lot of going back and forth typical for the genre but it ends with Juliette heading back to Acapulco airport to be reunited with Jean. A lot of waiting-time and cell phone minutes and airfare have been wasted just to bring this unlikely couple together. . . They have fallen in love. It’s shamelessly Hollywood and completely without depth, but at least it’s sweeter than Vendredi Soir’s lugubrious one night stand.

Jet Lag is an update on a traditional romantic comedy. But in a world of diminishing capacity for commitment among the jet set, this kind of chance romantic coupling doesn’t work the way it used to – or as it unquestionably does in Richard Linklater’s splendidly talky 1995 Before Sunrise, where the couple are young enough and innocent enough to make it cute and believable. With baggy-eyed Reno and fading beauty Binoche you’d like to see some more road testing before you could believe in their relationship. What does give it some future credibility is that they don’t make love in the hotel room; they only try to sleep side by side.

The best moment is when Félix pays 100 Euros to be let into the hotel kitchen after midnight and, while fixing them a meal, describes the moment of epiphany in his chef father’s kitchen that turned him into a chef himself. It’s almost as good as the time in Jean-Jacques Beineix’s marvelous 1982 Diva when Gorodish (Richard Bohringer) describes how to make a butter tartine. But ten minutes of Diva are worth ten hours of Jet Lag. The director deserves some credit, though, for making airline travel today somehow still seem glamorous.

Jet Lag/Décalage horaire, 91 mins., debuted at Toronto Sept. 2002; US theatrical realease 13 June 2003 (limited). Screened for this review at Angelika Film Center, NYC.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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