Julien (Olivier Bernard) is a musician in Paris, spending his days playing on the street and his nights playing to small audiences in a club. Disillusioned and with the baggage of trying to make a name for himself in America, only to return home with little success, Julien is on the cusp of deciding whether to accept a practical job for financial stability, or stick to his artistic guns.
Claire (Matilda Kime) is an American in Paris, whose dreams of being a dancer have met with a more disappointing reality. Stuck with a job she hates, and the feeling that she’s failed herself, Claire too is at a crossroads in her life (whether she knows it or not). Impressed with Julien’s music, which she hears on the street, she strikes up an impromptu friendship with the musician. Soon the two are hanging out all night before taking a spontaneous trip to Normandy for a weekend away from their problems in Paris.
Julien & Claire is a romantic tale of artists in France, but it is not what I would traditionally describe as a romance film between two people. There is an expressed affinity between Julien and Claire that could be classified as romantic, but it feels more like two souls of a similar nature sharing time with each other. That very notion is romantic, but it doesn’t need to be a love story.
If there are relationships to be found in this film, they’re not what you would traditionally assume. While Julien and Claire do couple for a weekend, the true relationships that exist are to be found between them and their respective arts, Julien the musician and Claire the dancer. It is within that dynamic that the film could be a romantic tragedy, as we see Julien at cross-odds with his artistic love and the prospect of financial stability, and Claire likewise battling her artistic trials, though less inclined to dive headlong into a more practical endeavor.
I don’t normally single out the Director of Photography, but in this case I feel it is important to give credit to DP James Henry. There’s just something about the look of this film that is particularly alluring. The sort of faded photo quality of the image brings a depth to the story betraying that though this tale is modern enough, the elements are timeless, as our the moments of true artistic and emotional connection between strangers.
Which is really what we have in this film. It’s not a sappy “fell in love over a weekend” fable; if these two are soul mates, it’s because their souls have similar callings and are suffering similar trials. They’re really a couple out of time with each other. If a younger Julien had met current Claire, we’d have an entirely different story. Instead, Claire is still enjoying, or at least re-discovering, a level of joy and naiveté that Julien has long since lost. Can he get it back; does he want it back? Is it just a matter of time before Claire is like him?
Regardless, Julien is definitely a talented musician, which is likewise a compliment to actor Olivier Bernard, who wrote and performs all the songs. I’ll admit, when the film opened, I thought I was in for something derivative of Once, but that is not this film. There are similarities, but only in the basest of senses. Well, unless you include that I really liked Once, and also enjoyed this one quite a bit.
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