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Vendredi Soir (2002)

an economically constructed road movie

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 90 minutes

UK Certificate: 15

Take a woman and a man, some longing looks, dialogue about life and love, smoke curling from a cigarette, an illicit affair, and a meal accompanied by wine, and you could be watching any one of countless French movies. Yet with 'Vendredi Soir', Claire Denis (director of 'Beau Travail' and 'Trouble Every Day') strips this familiar Gallic formula down to its barest bones, and the result is proof that sometimes less really is more.

On a winter evening in Paris, Laure (Valerie Lemercier) packs the last boxes in her old flat, and gets in her car, intending to spend the night having dinner with friends before moving in with her boyfriend the following day. On the way, however, she gets stuck in gridlock, and lets a stranger, Jean (Vincent Lindon), come into her car from the cold. He drives her to another part of Paris where there is less traffic, they have coffee together, go to a hotel, have sex, go out for a late dinner, and return to the hotel.

The following morning, Laure leaves.

With a plot so disarmingly simple, with so few characters, and with long stretches of silence between them, 'Vendredi Soir' ought to be boring, but in fact, it is the opposite – an economically constructed road movie, beautiful to look at and full of minutely observed details. Lemercier and Lindon give finely nuanced performances, where the subtlest look, movement and gesture seem full of significance – as is necessary, given the sparseness of the dialogue. The sex scenes between them, far from having the tawdry quality that one normally associates with one-night stands, are composed of a series of close-ups which give them an unexpected intensity and intimacy.

Denis avoids a hackneyed presentation of Paris as the city of love, instead making its streets seem cold, hostile and full of menace; and she avoids monotony by puncturing the film's apparent naturalism with sequences of fantasy, and even with surreal bits of animation (including an asparagus spear on a pizza that transforms into a smile), leaving the impression that what we are viewing may in fact all be a dream or an allegory – for, on her dark (Friday) night of the soul, Laure is not just stuck in traffic, unable to drive either back to her old home or to her next destination – she is also at a crossroads in her life, leaving behind forever her youthful independence, but not yet feeling quite ready for adult commitment. Over one brief evening, she deviates from her charted lifecourse, exploring a different path with Jean, and then the evening is over, the road ahead is suddenly clear, and she heads off into tomorrow a different person. As a viewer, you might just find yourself at the film's end sharing the triumphant smile on her face.

It's Got: cold outside, warmth inside

It Needs: some viewers might prefer a faster pace and more dialogue (but not this one)


when unsure about the road ahead, take a detour