(Sanma no aji)

Directed by Claire Denis. 2002.

Talking Pictures alias







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In an American film, picking up a stranger hitchhiking in Paris during a transit strike would lead to rape, murder, or perhaps endless hours of superficial talk. Friday Night, the latest film by Claire Denis (Beau Travail, Trouble Every Day), shows it simply as a one night stand without moralizing or psychological evaluation. Based on a novella by Emmanuelle Bernheim and supported by an original score by Dickon Hinchcliffe and exquisite cinematography by Agnes Godard, the film is rich in poetic and surrealistic touches. Though there is very little conversation, communication is intimately conveyed by a warm smile, a gentle touch, a knowing glance. We know nothing about either of the characters, where they come from, what they think, what they feel, yet they provide a stand in for our fantasy about that one romantic night with a perfect stranger. 

Laure (Valerie Lemercier) has packed up her belongings and is ready to move in with her boyfriend. On a Friday night, on the way to dinner with a friend, she gets stuck in a nightmarish traffic jam caused by a transit strike in which the cars barely move. She listens to the radio commentator urging people to give others a lift. She dries her hair on the car heater, listens to music, watches the other car drivers, and rummages through her books whole waiting for the cars to move. She offers a ride to a handsome stranger (Gregoire Collin) but he says he would rather walk. When she gives a ride to a paunchy middle aged man named Jean (Vincent Lindon), her door is open literally and figuratively. When Laure gets out of the car to make a phone call, Jean assumes the wheel and zips through side streets until she tells him she wants to stop. They bicker, separate, but find each other again and discover their growing attraction. 

Without considering the effect it will have on her relationship with her boyfriend Francois, Laure agrees to rent a room with Jean for the night at an empty hotel managed by an inquisitive attendant. Before and after eating dinner at a local pizza restaurant, they make love in their room while the hand-held camera caresses isolated body parts in jumpy rhythms. There is gentleness and romance but the look on their faces does not reveal any exuberance. Friday Night has a playful feel but is ultimately too self-conscious to be fully convincing, lacking the element of passion or danger. It is Denis' minimalist Ode to Joy but the running, smiling figure of Laure at the end failed to convince me that the joy was genuine. 

Howard Schumann
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