Vendredi Soir

Vendredi Soir

***1/2

Reviewed by: Gary Duncan

Laure (Valerie Lemercier), a quiet thirtysomething on her way to a friend's for dinner, offers a lift to a stranded commuter, the chain-smoking Jean (Vincent Lindon), as a public transport strike brings Paris to a standstill. They barely speak, but before you can say, "Your place or mine?", they abandon the car and check into the nearest hotel.

That's it, plot-wise. Two strangers meet, have sex, have dinner, have more sex. We don't know much about them at the start and we don't know much about them at the end. We don't even see what happens the morning after the night before. No one gets their comeuppance. It's not Fatal Attraction and there are no boiled bunnies.

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What we do get is a beautiful, sensual film that offers a new take on that oldest of clich├ęs, the one-night stand. Vendredi Soir plays like a feature-length vignette, a fragment of a bigger story played out over 88 minutes. With its attention to detail and unhurried narrative, it's the cinematic equivalent of a Nicholson Baker novel.

At times it moves at a snail's pace. Laure methodically packs her belongings as she prepares to move in with her boyfriend. The camera lingers on her as she stares absent-mindedly out of her car window and again when she nods off as the traffic grinds to a halt around her. We get long, panoramic shots of night-time Paris - rooftops, deserted streets, empty bars and restaurants. Everything is slow, deliberate - Laure and Jean take an age to undress each other, and then make love like they have all the time in the world.

For the first six or seven minutes of the film no one says a word - an eternity in screen time - and director Claire Denis and co-writer Emmanuele Bernheim deserve credit for this. Laure and Jean say very little. They don't try to justify their actions and we never get bogged down in meaningless small talk. Even when the conversation dries up - and it does frequently - they seem comfortable in the silence, just looking at each other, like they've known each other for years. Watching them, you feel like a fly on the wall, and part of you wants to look away, because you know you're intruding.

With Jean, however, you get the feeling he's done this before. He's just a little too nonchalant. When they stop at a bar before checking into the hotel, he asks Laure for some change. She hands him a few coins and assumes he has to make a phone call - a wife or a girlfriend that needs to be lied to - but he makes a beeline for the nearest condom machine.

The film never preaches, however - we're not forced to judge anyone and it's all the better for it.

Reviewed on: 05 Mar 2004
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A one-night stand between strangers who meet in a Parisian traffic jam.
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Angus Wolfe Murray **1/2

Director: Claire Denis

Writer: Claire Denis, Emmanuelle Bernheim, based on the novel by Emmanuelle Bernheim

Starring: Valerie Lemercier, Vincent Lindon, Helene de Saint-Pere, Helene Fillieres, Florence Loiret Caille, Gregoire Colin

Year: 2002

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: France

Festivals:

EIFF 2003

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