Vendredi soir

Director: Claire Denis

France| 2002. English subtitles. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 90 mins.

As a filmmaker, Claire Denis has always run on instinct. Far from contrived, her work always seems arrived at, often through a process of loose, improvisational work with her actors. When everything clicks, as in Beau travail’s magnificent study of disruptive desire in the French Foreign Legion, there’s hardly anyone to touch her, but her high-risk methods always carry the danger that the ingredients might fail to gel (as in the wayward horrors of Trouble Every Day). Thankfully, that’s not the case with her latest, a potent erotic reverie about liberating desire, which takes off from the unlikely starting point of a Paris traffic jam.
As night falls in the wintry city, thirty-something Valerie Lemercier has spent the day packing up her flat, a prelude to moving in with her boyfriend. She’s on her way over for dinner at her pals’ place, but streets jammed by a transport strike halt her progress. Moments after a radio announcer suggests motorists should offer help to stranded pedestrians, she’s suddenly sharing her vehicle with taciturn, self-possessed Vincent Lindon, and the evening gradually glides towards a shabby out-of-the-way hotel room . . .
In different hands, this could have become a crass male sexual fantasy or even a hectoring cautionary tale, but Denis brings a kind of sussed positivism to the proceedings as it dawns on Lemercier-attractive, but no movie-star sex-bomb-that the circumstances are falling into place to allow her a moment of secret sexual self-expression before submitting to the responsibilities of the relationship awaiting her. Although the dialogue’s minimal to a fault, looks and glances tell us all we need to know when Denis’s pointillist evocation of bustling urban twilight gives way to palpable skin-on-skin tactility.-

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