Brief Crossing

Brief Crossing

****1/2

Reviewed by: Chris

Have you ever thought about why you suspend disbelief for some films and not others? Or for some chat-up lines and not others? What about if it's someone you really fancy?

Half way through Brief Crossing, Alice says: "Men put you in a box and you go into it just like a goose cos you think there's nothing more beautiful than love." She and Thomas are seducing each other but there is always a resistance. For Alice, it is Thomas' lack of confidence, clumsiness and inexperience (he is 16 going on 18). For Thomas, it is the inbuilt ability of any woman to say no in order to say yes. Alice, railing against men and educating Thomas at the same time, explains it: "It's exciting to disconnect them and see how they return the attack."

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But if Brief Crossing is a complex and intellectually fertile examination of emotion and truth-telling in the areas of romance and seduction, it is also one of Breillat's most accessible works. It is one of the few that can be enjoyed as a brief, sexy, and entirely believable romance. The quasi-philosophical banter becomes background noise. We wait, like voyeurs, for the mutual cat-and-mouse to play itself towards a passionate conclusion.

They meet on an overnight sea crossing from France to Portsmouth. Share a table in a crowded diner. She fixes him with her gaze until he stops fumbling with his food, a cigarette, anything. Eventually he has to return it or risk losing her. And we know he is attracted to her - though too shy to know what to do. While Thomas drinks only cola, she fortifies herself with several brandies. Her attentions slowly give him confidence, the 'cool' that she desires of him.

But give him too much and his confidence becomes arrogance. She has to push him away again, make him chase her. Push too far, and he will leave, humiliated.

How to make that brief meeting of minds? A union that is long enough, mutually wanted enough, for something exciting to happen? He takes her life and death references literally. She points out that she is only trying to get him to be romantic. Choosing to accept where someone else is coming from, their truth, their reality, is no more than a convenient shorthand. An arrangement from which to proceed on common ground. An act of good faith.

Sarah Pratt (who will work with Breillat again several years later in Une Vieille Maîtresse), gives a finely nuanced performance as Alice, especially when the ending throws new light on her whole story. But Gilles Guillain, as the young Thomas, is cringingly realistic as the hot-blooded and woefully inexperienced young lover. Volleyed between embarrassment and lust, hormones raging up a steep learning curve, his is a state that many male viewers will feel ashamed to recall.

Breillat has frequently proclaimed that she only makes films about women since, being a woman, that is all she knows about. Yet in addition to the (sometimes scathing) examination of the female psyche, she is expert in how the male gaze is experienced by the woman, and adept at extracting realistic performances from young male actors (this would be repeated in films such as A Ma Soeur and explained in Sex Is Comedy).

Breillat has sometimes been likened to a female of De Sade. Not through any penchant for perversion perhaps as for her flagrant disregard for convention in being open about matters sexual. Yet in Brève Traverse, hers is similar to his literary style in another respect: she alternates fairly heavyweight discourse with elements of a more graphic nature. In some of her later films (Romance, Anatomie De L'Enfer), this can become an arduous experience, especially for viewers unfamiliar with her ideas. But in Brève Traverse the intellectual content is more a gentle college lesson in seduction (with analogies on gender politics added for those who can keep up at the back). All delivered with the silver tongue of a woman out to get her man.

I used to think 'truth' was in the ears of the beholder. "Is this glass empty?" – well it depends whether I am standing in a bar or a physics laboratory. But Breillat is helping to persuade me it is only at the discretion of the beholder. Would you agree? And what if you happen to be on your second brandy; the stars a canopy and the sea below; if our pheromones are intertwined; and nothing we say now will matter at the end of the crossing? Will your answer be the same? Enjoy.

Reviewed on: 06 Apr 2008
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Brief Crossing packshot
A romantic liaison on a ferry crossing.
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Director: Catherine Breillat

Writer: Catherine Breillat

Starring: Sarah Pratt, Gilles Guillain, Marc Filipi, Laëtitia Lopez

Year: 2001

Runtime: 80 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: France

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