Friday Night

aka Vendredi Soir
Movie Review by Susan Hodgetts

Starring: Valerie Lemercier, Vincent Lindon, Helene de Saint-Pere, Helene Fillieres
Director: Claire Denis

Ever fantasized about a one-night stand with a stranger? Laure does more than just fantasize about it in this latest from acclaimed French director Claire Denis.

Laure (Valerie LeMercier) has packed up all her belongings and is preparing to move into the apartment of her boyfriend Francois the following day; but having forgotten all about the transport strikes, she is caught unawares in the gridlocked streets of Paris on her way to dinner at a friend’s house.

Consequently, when she gives a lift to handsome stranger Jean (Vincent Linden), wandering calmly amidst the traffic chaos, she abandons all notions of the dinner party and becomes far more interested in her mysterious passenger instead.

From the director of BEAU TRAVAIL, the cinematography is as stunning as you’d expect. The film is at its best with sweeping views across the Paris cityscape blended with dream-like montages of the Paris streets at night, along with the eventual surging passion of its brief love story.

Despite this, however, it remains surprisingly unaffecting. It gets off to a slow start, spending far too long stuck in the jammed streets of Paris – I felt increasingly like I was stuck in them too. However, once the narrative moved on from here, the love story was allowed to develop at a perfect pace and was beautifully handled.

Denis introduces occasional surreal quirks such as the pepper on a pizza smiling, and lampshades moving on to bases of their own accord – these seemed a little out of place but were clearly there to emphasize the fantastical quality of the film.

The film floats along like a dark dream, with Denis and cinematographer Agnes Godard making maximum use of the darkness to enhance surreal, nightmarish images – from the weirdoes out late wondering around, to an exhilarating sequence when Jean is driving fast and all we see are shapes and colours as lights and buildings flash past in the night. There is genuine tension and fear bristling together with dangerous excitement here.

The fact that this couple remain largely anonymous – not just to each other, but also the viewer – is telling in itself. Laure only learns Jean’s name right towards the end, as she leaves him in a hotel room and dashes out into the morning light. We never find out what Laure does for a job or any other particularly intimate details about her life, and we discover even less about the mysterious stranger Jean, other than surmising that he is in his late 40s or early 50s.

The performances by LeMercier and Linden aren’t startling, and perhaps even slightly underwhelming – they do enough to get the story across – but perhaps much hinges on the point that they are supposed to be ordinary.

3 out of 6 stars

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