Vendredi Soir

| September 7, 2003

Denis’ strange and self-consciously enigmatic film features very little plot and less dialogue. A woman, Laure (Valérie Lemercier) moves out of her flat and gets stuck in a traffic jam. She picks up a city drifter, Jean (Vincent Lindon). They check in to a hotel, have sex, go to dinner, have sex, go back to the hotel, have sex, fall asleep and she leaves. It is very slow, very self-conscious, and very, very French.
Like her first film Beau Travail (Good Work, 1999) this features lingering shots, unlikely montages and odd framings. The film isn’t really concerned with dramatic drive; instead Denis seems to be attempting to evolve a film language to express alienation and loneliness. In particular Denis contrasts Laure’s packaging of her life in the opening sequence (books, kitchen utensils, old clothes, furniture) and the oddly framed shots (halfway through doorways, angled, uncentred). The effect is to unsettle the audience and to draw them into Laure’s disjointed, alienated world, We understand her impulsive attempt at connecting (with Jean) because of the crushing banality of life. Everything else is logical, normal–this is different. But it isn’t really, she has just tried to make it so, and the film ends with her walking away in the morning. Friday night gives way to Saturday, but there is no progress, only a cycle of time. Nothing changes, nothing is attained. There is a great sadness at Laure’s inability to complete–her world is fragmented, with no narrative and no connections. She can never communicate properly, or tell people what she wants.
In comparison with the crash-bang-wallop of recent French film–Intimacy (Patrice Chéreau, 2001) or Incontrovertible (Catherine Breillat, 2002), for instance–Denis’ film relies on intimacy, accretion and meaningful gesture to present the story. There is no major dramatic narrative here, and the very normality of the hotel, the restaurant, and the banal Parisian streets is part of Denis’ version of modern life. Humdrum objects attain a valency or potency. The drab mis-en-scene is brought into life by Denis’ camera–rooftops attain an enigmatic poignancy, a car becomes a space of desire. Chance encounters and normal conversations are focussed upon and dissected, anatomised to such a painful degree that the banality of the everyday is given an hyperreal oddness.
Lindon particularly encapsulates the random normality of Denis’ film. Crumpled, empty, anonymous, he has no back-story and no dynamic. He could be anyone. The connection between the characters is driven by pure need, chance desire. They are desperately attempting to interact. This relationship just might make you a real person, help to bring you into being. But ultimately it doesn’t–the relationship is another fantasy that enables Laure to get through the hideous normality of life. We live, as we dream, alone.

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