Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat May 31, 2003 11:37 am 
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Stay out of that Peugeot!

Mme Denis's Friday Evening is a study in boredom relieved only slightly by a tumble in the hay, or more accurately a tumble in the bed of a cheap Paris hotel. If that rocks your boat, go see it; otherwise, avoid it like the plague and watch instead Frederic Fonteyn's more eventful and more structured Une Liaison Pornographique, AKA An Affair of Love (2000), a film bristling with ideas in which actual conversations occur, some rather interesting, and the lovemaking is way more erotic.

Denis creates a situation to get her chance coupling started: a general transport strike that creates gridlock on the Paris streets. Rows of forlorn people stand where they might have caught a bus. The traffic is crawling (like this film) but strangers get a ride if they want. A young woman with a big nose and a pleasant face (Valérie Lemercier) is driving to have dinner with friends after a day of packing her apartment (another slow process of which we are given to observe far, far too much). Tomorrow she's to move in with a boyfriend, an event she hasn't quite adjusted to. She didn't even know about the strike, or why the cars are stuck, or why people are asking to enter her car. Then a radio announcer says rides are needed and she gets it. We see that this has romantic possibilities when she offers one to a young man (Grégoire Colin, the hunky star of Denis' Beau Travail) but he takes a look at her and her dusty old Peugeot (for sale: 15,000 francs) jumbled with packages and says "no thanks, it'll be faster to walk." Wise advice. Wise decision.

Later a tall, beefy man with big cow eyes, thin lips and a blue chin (Vincent Lindon) asks to "mount," as the French say. He gets in, and Laure meets Jean.

The first half hour of Vendredi Soir is unrelieved boredom. The second is boring too, but begins the slow, mostly wordless prelude to Laure and Jean's coupling. The anonymity of the encounter -- sexy, I guess -- is confirmed by the silence of Laure and Jean, who exchange little information beyond their first names. Imagining that Jean's chain smoking won't appeal to her hosts with their new baby, and no doubt already scheming about that upcoming tumble, Laure suggests she and Jean have dinner together. She abandons the car to make a phone call and then her car disappears. Jean has had to drive it out of traffic and go looking for her. When they find each other again he takes the wheel, driving in a wild, speedy detour that upsets her and he gets out, but she follows him on foot to a bistro and then, after some smooching at the bar, to the hotel (room: 40 francs, a gridlock special apparently).

What saves Vendredi Soir from utter forgettability is the way Denis gives the traffic and the whole encounter a surreal almost real time vividness. Camerawork is patchy and claustrophobic. We never see the hotel room but only bits of it -- a heater, bedspread, the bathroom sink. Everything's momentary and without context, but shown in intense, bright images that contrast with the coldness of the winter night. The lovemaking isn't erotic but surprisingly affectionate: lots of friendly hugging, cuddling, and tongueless kissing. I thought tongue kissing was French. Beau Travail was so beautiful and sensual. Oh well.

Time drags so much you think it must be the wee small hours when Laure and Jean wake up hungry and go out; actually while they're at the pizza restaurant they find it's only round about midnight. After a meal and glimpses of other patrons, back to the room for more cuddling.

I missed the ending. Things were going so slowly I was sure I had time go to the bathroom but when I returned to my seat the credits were rolling and people were filing out. I should have asked someone what happened. Did Laure decide to go and live with Jean? Did she give her boyfriend a goodbye call? Or did she just get up next morning and go back to her old life and her new apartment? The movers were due at eight. I think she probably made the deadline. But I didn't ask anybody. I suppose I just didn't care.

A footnote about Vincent Lindon: Interesting fellow. Here he's the strong silent type. To convey some sense of personality with so little dialogue is an accomplishment. In the recent Chaos he plays the icky bourgeois man who drives away when a woman is being beaten and throughout the film is an utter parody of a male chauvinist pig. In L'Ecole de la Chair, with the wonderful Isabelle Huppert at her most haughty and elegant, he's a catty, wicked and pretentious drag queen. In each role he's at home. No doubt about it, this actor's got game.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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