Art cinema was revealed to be boring and pretentious in the Seventies. Before that, words such as "innovative" and "postmodern" were bandied about. After a long stay in The Home For Artists On The Brink Of A Nervous Breakdown, it is back in the form of Friday Night.

Claire Denis has become one of France's most respected new wave directors (Chocolat, Beau Travail, Trouble Every Day). Here, she collaborates with novelist Emmanuelle Bernheim on a film that feeds off fantasy, rather than probability.

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The first 20 minutes is a series of Parisian cityscapes, followed by scenes of Laure (Valerie Lemercier) packing her things into cardboard boxes, filmed from behind so that you don't see her face. Next comes Laure in a gridlocked traffic jam, surrounded by stationary cars, belching exhaust fumes. All you know of her so far is that she's moving somewhere else to live with her boyfriend.

After what seems like a gnat's lifetime, as Denis invents ever more inventive ways of filming inactivity, a stranger (Vincent Lindon) dumps himself in her passenger seat without so much as a mind-if-I-do and immediately lights up a ciggie. She is trying to quit the filthy habit, but doesn't tell him to put it out, or put himself out at the same time.

Are the French so sophisticated that they can accept a situation like this without talking about it? Laure says, "My name is Laure." The chain smoker says: "Jean." And that's about it in the conversation stakes.

They end up in bed, as you would expect. Sensitivity is electric, as the camera goes in close for more artistic shots of body parts. Everything is in the detail, whether the movement of a hand on the steering wheel, the blurred image of a figure in the winter night, a kiss on the shoulder, the crease of a sheet.

None of it is remotely believable, although women all over the world long for it to be so. If only men were so undemanding and women so accommodating. And so silent.

Ah, wishes... (sigh)

Reviewed on: 16 Aug 2003
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A one-night stand between strangers who meet in a Parisian traffic jam.
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Gary Duncan ***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


EIFF 2003

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En La Cama