After detouring to make the vampire thriller “Trouble Every Day,” French filmmaker Claire Denis is back in Beau Travail mode with another nearly wordless micro-drama–beautifully filmed and somewhat maddeningly elusive.
It’s Friday night in Paris and Laure (Valerie Lemercier) is finished packing up her flat before moving in with her boyfriend tomorrow. She’s driving to have dinner with a friend (Helene de Saint-Pere) when she gets stuck in a horrific traffic jam. Relaxed in the calm oasis of her car, Laure lets her guard down and picks up a stranded pedestrian, Jean (Vincent Lindon). Soon the two are flirting shamelessly, then trying to find a way out of the jam down sidestreets … until they spot a cheap hotel and get another idea.
The team of director Denis and cinematographer Agnes Godard is a potent one. As with Beau Travail, they elegantly capture the moods with telling details, clever angles and intriguing editing. There’s something ethereal and naughty that makes the film feel like an extended fantasy in the mind of a woman stuck in a traffic jam (there are lots of mini-fantasies here and there, as well as a couple of goofy special effects).
The camera work is close-up and very intimate, rarely letting us get the whole picture of what’s going on, and the effect is insinuating, sexy, and more than a little bit dull, since it moves at a snail’s pace and feels heavily padded out.
Performances are superb from the central duo as a cast of cameos that includes such familiar French faces as Helene Fillieres and Gregoire Colin (Micha Lescot’s hotel receptionist brings a welcome blast of humour). But more than a narrative film, this is a current of emotion washing across the screen for 90 minutes. Not terribly engaging, but surprisingly moving.