Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Vendredi Soir (2002)

Synopsis: A Parisian woman, just about to move in with her boyfriend, gets stuck in a traffic jam, meets a stranger and has a one night stand.

I've slowly been working my way through Clare Denis' back catalogue, so came upon this one after seeing Beau Travail and 35 Rhums. All totally out of sequence, but hey, who cares?

You can definitely see a thread running through Denis' films (of those that I have seen). She is very much interested in human relationships, both on the micro, one on one, level and those within family (35 Rhums) or more formal groups (Beau Travail). In Vendredi Soir, we follow Laure (Valerie Lemercier - last seen by me in Louis Malle's joyous Milou en Mai) on one Friday evening as she packs boxes to prepare for moving house. She attempts to meet friends for dinner but gets stuck in a huge traffic jam (transport strike, innit). The travel announcer on the car radio suggests giving strangers lifts, an act of kindness in extraordinary circumstances. We see Laure try to give Denis regular Gregoire Colin a lift but he refuses in favour of walking.

Eventually, we see a man, Jean (the gorgeous, rugged and incredibly sexy Vincent Lindon), appearing to check out Laure and perhaps another female driver, choosing which one to ask for a lift. He taps on Laure's window and gets in. Thereafter, we see them chat a little, Laure fantasises about asking him to come to dinner, all the while she is in control of the wheel. At one point she leaves the car to make a phone call (to cancel dinner with the friends), when she returns to where she thinks she's left the car (and Jean), it's gone. She wanders around for a few minutes and then Jean comes running after her. He now takes control of the vehicle (metaphor anyone?) and drives off erratically down a side street and away from the jam.

All of the subtle suggestion (lots of close-ups of both Laure and Jean's hands, faces, limbs) then leads to the couple making the decision to spend the night together. There's a great scene in a tabac, when Jean asks the waitress for 10 franc coins. We (and more importantly Laure) assume he's making a phone call, but when Laure herself ventures to the phone, we see it only accepts cards - it's the condom machine next to it that takes the 10 franc coins. So, she knows his intentions and only has to go along with him.

Outside they embrace and kiss passionately in the quiet street that leads them to a hotel. After finding their room they quickly make love, almost fully clothed. This is dimly-lit, close-up, uncoreographed sex, not stagey and self-conscious but almost episodic or dreamy. The way it looked reminded me a little of one or two of Thomas Ruff, Guy Bourdin or Antoine D'Agata's photos (out of focus, deep, dark colours). There's none of the base, cold shagging as in a film like Intimacy either - these are two people genuinely attracted (and attractive) to each other who have found themselves in an unusual chance encounter. Without becoming gratuitous the camera focuses on their bodies to highlight form and muscle tone, making this film genuinely erotic.

Speaking of which, this is a film quite definitely about the senses, it is truly sensual:

We see Laure enjoying the smell of Jean's cigarette smoke (she has given up smoking) inside the car and during their love-making Jean tells Laure that her hand smells of rubber.

We see Laure's hands/fingers gripping the steering wheel and her feet and legs stretching out in the foot well, we see her bathing early on in the film with the camera concentrating on her back and hair. We also see Laure's hand touching the bedclothes in the hotel. Of course, we also get the caresses between the couple - so many moments reminded me of Hiroshima Mon Amour, arms entwining, backs arching and some very tight shots on abstract flesh.

Of course being a film it should look good and interesting, so there is much visual stimuli. The dusk of a Paris evening followed by the the rainy bright lights of the traffic jam is very vibrant. Some of the close ups of rain drops on cars, neon lights reflecting on chrome reminded me of the opening scenes from Taxi Driver too.

This is also a film about sounds - music from the radio (from what I'd previously seen Clare Denis uses music brilliantly in her films), but we also have the sound of the car heater and the gas heater in the hotel room. We have the car horns constantly going off, signifying boredom and frustration but also urging the couple on in their actions...

Jean always has a fag on the go, and they enjoy a coffee together in the tabac, so the classic French combo is there. There is also, of course, the taste of each other - this is not a couple that talk and shag, they kiss. A lot. There is so little dialogue but they do use their mouths. Maybe I've read far too much into this, I don't know...

Was it all a crazy dream?
There's a very short episode when Laure first gets in the traffic jam. A man attempts to enter her car and she locks the door and drives off. She soon realises (after hearing the radio announcement) that she needn't have been scared. But is there more to this? Is the following all in her imagination? Is she sitting, bored, in a jam, fantasising about what could have happened had she let a strange man in her car? We see her alone several times when she is 'with' Jean - at the restaurant table, in the other hotel rooms that she noses around.

Another reason we have for thinking this - she is just about to move in with her boyfriend. A pretty momentous event, perhaps she's having second thoughts or at least fantasising about continuing her single, carefree life. Interestingly, the film was written by Emmanuele Bernheim, who also wrote Francois Ozon's Swimming Pool, a film also about one woman's erotic experience/imagination. These films are very different but they do both end on an ambiguous/mysterious note.

So, in the end we are left wondering whether this sexy female fantasy figure was ever real or the product of Laure's vivid imagination.

See also: Swimming Pool, Hiroshima Mon Amour

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