Friday Night/Vendredi Soir
Well, I’m trying to dash this off short review off. I actually saw it last Monday, but I haven’t had time to write about it lately, and today I’m been preoccupied with college football (don’t ask), but I’m trying to get this up before I go to a screening of John Sayles’s new film,
Casa de los Babys...
Ah, there’s no better way to symbolize modern ennui than a traffic jam, and Claire Denis takes advantage of this somewhat cinematic cliché by having her initially indecisive heroine, stuck in traffic, dig through belongings that were packaged up for charity, and then rescue a few choice items from her past life. In short, this one scene is evocative of the entire whole, as Laure (plainly sexy comedic actress Valerie Lemercier), on the cusp of moving in with an unseen boyfriend, and starting a new, domestic, phase of her relationship, is afforded a new view on her life after a chance meeting with a charming stranger named Jean (Vincent Lindon). It’s a relatively simple story, Laure and Jean meet, they flirt, they get a hotel room, they have sex, they go out to eat, then return to have more sex, and then to sleep, and then she leaves the next morning.
Not that Laure seems all that keen on the idea of domestic “tranquility” in the first place (the best example would be her glum, seriocomic fantasy of herself and Jean visiting her friend Marie’s apartment, crying baby and all, captured by Denis in a curious iris in and out). Denis and her screenwriter, Emmanuele Bernheim (who also wrote the novel the film is based upon), realistically conveys Laure’s mixed emotions that such a a radical life change would elicit, the acquiescence (an elderly neighbor, rummaging through her discarded belongings, is amazed at what Laure is throwing away; later we learn that she is selling her car, though she still thinks it is a “good car”), reluctance (the ominous insert close-up of a new set of apartment keys labeled “Our Place”; or how Laure lolls about on the bare mattress of her twin bed), and resistance (Laure tries on the sexy, red and black skirt, and eventually decides to keep it). One could argue that Laure’s reliance on pay phones instead of investing in a cellphone is another sign of resistance, or an assertion of some level of independence. Because Denis typically eschews a standard narrative in favor of elliptical impressions (at least in the last two films of hers that I have seen, Beau Travail
and Trouble Every Day
), one has to look at these sorts of minor details and build up the characters from there, otherwise, given the anti-psychological bent of her films (repressed desire being the rule of the day), all her characters would resemble cyphers.
It’s also interesting that Denis’s elliptical narrative style combined with Agnes Godard’s camerawork gives rise to a dreamlike quality which contrasts nicely with Denis’s interest in desire and physicality. We see it again in Friday Night
, whose dreamlike-tone is further assisted by Dickon Hinchcliffe’s wonderful ethereal, score; the absurdism of the traffic jam; the deserted back streets, cafes, and hotels of Paris; and the ambiguity of the narrative itself (the majority of the film’s action takes place after Laure has dozed off in her stalled car; and after Jean takes the wheel, roaring through the now empty streets of Paris, it has a certain, nightmarish, yet exciting quality, for Laure). Then there are the sex scenes themselves, which would present themselves as central to a film ostensibly about a one night stand, but here they are as oblique and elliptical as the narrative themselves, more like a sense of impressions emphasizing physical contact over intercourse, giving privilege to a caress or kiss, often shot in underlit rooms, or slightly out of focus, in extreme close-up or from strange angles, atomizing the two bodies, with a measured and controlled soundtrack. There’s actually very, very little nudity in these extended sex scenes (when they first have sex, they are almost fully clothed). Even with a female director, screenwriter, and cinematographer (as well as wedding the narrative almost completely to Lemercier character’s subjective POV), I would hesitate to the sex scenes “feminine,” though I doubt any male director would have shot them in a similar way. Though, I don’t actually think the sex is the end all be all of the film (Denis spends just as much time filming out in the traffic jam, or the bonhomie and warmth of an Italian restaurant that fills slowly with weary refugees from the traffic jam, though this sequence kind of confused me, since I’m not sure if Jean actually had sex in the bathroom with the older customer’s young, angry wife, or if it was another fantasy on the part of Laure), but of the sensations and feelings of a woman on the verge of something....