Friday Night
Vendredi Soir
review by Nicholas Schager, 28 February 2003

If Claire Denis’ masterfully gruesome vampire tale Trouble Every Day detailed the most violent expressions of love, then Friday Night, the French director’s latest examination of amorous desire, is a sumptuous evocation of the liberating exhilaration of unexpected romance. The story of a one-night stand between two strangers, it’s a film so beautifully attuned to the rhythms of passion that it sweeps one up in blissful reverie, and marks yet another triumph for one of cinema’s most dynamic directorial voices.

Working once again with longtime cinematographer Agnes Godard, Denis cradles the film’s lovers in a velvety cloak of darkness punctuated by the glittering light cast from Paris’ street lamps, apartment windows, and car headlights – the city is a shadowy wonderland that provides endless possibilities for both warmth and cold, cruelty and joy. Denis has always placed primary emphasis on visual filmmaking over expository narrative development, and, in Friday Night, she reaches a mesmerizing apex of silent storytelling, allowing the camera’s movements and Nelly Quettier’s editing to convey the characters’ innermost thoughts and emotions. The opening shots of the Parisian landscape show us the city moving from daylight to dusk to night, and an image of the Eiffel Tower’s swirling searchlight seems to suggest a plaintive call, an S.O.S. that the film’s protagonist subconsciously wants to articulate.

Laure (French comedienne Valérie Lemercier, in a superb performance of understated eloquence) is moving out of her apartment and into her boyfriend’s place. Once her former home has been vacated, she plans on having dinner with friends, but her trip is delayed by a citywide public transport strike that’s paralyzed traffic. Laure sits trapped in her car, as isolated and confined in her compact vehicle as the throngs of commuters she watches from behind her windshield. Like their lost and miserable countenances suggest, Laure is alone, and she seeks comfort in the warmth of her car’s heater, using it to dry her still wet hair and envelop her in its soft, womb-like embrace. When a passerby knocks on her window, she instinctively locks the door and drives away, frightened by the attempted intrusion of an outsider into her safe private sphere. She’s simultaneously desperate for and wary of companionship, her eyes scanning the crowds of cars in a feeble attempt at human connection, even as she shies away from personal interaction.

The radio advises drivers to offer rides to those people walking the streets and, with the shame of her prior refusal weighing upon her, she opens her door to a confident, striking gentleman named Jean (the smoldering Vincent Lindon). Upon closing the door he remarks “It’s warm in here” and, shortly thereafter, lights a cigarette, the wafts of smoke funneling out of Jean’s nose and mouth and cascading over the clearly ecstatic (reformed smoker) Laure – here, as throughout the film, heat and Jean become synonymous with one another, two elemental forces seeking to rejuvenate this delicate woman. A shot of Jean entering the car, followed by Laure stretching her legs and then running her hands through her hair silently reveals, in almost subliminal fashion, the immediate attraction between the two, as Denis’ camera sticks closely to its characters. The film, which contains virtually no establishing, long, or two shots, crowds in on Laure and Jean in extreme close-ups of their faces, their hands, and their craning necks, striving to tell the story not as a disinterested outside observer, but from the inside out.

Hopeful flights of the imagination compel Laure to cancel her dinner plans, and the two engage in a supple dance (or, one might say, game of hide and seek) around the city streets: Laure, attempting to return to the car after making a phone call, is unable to locate it or Jean; once she does, she’s frightened by Jean’s aggressively fast driving (mirroring her own fear of the accelerated pace of her feelings for him) and kicks him out, only to find him later at a brasserie; the two wander onto the streets, culminating in a revelatory kiss that leads to a sexual tryst lasting into the wee hours of the morning. Denis, through probing shots of casual physical movement – Jean’s hand on the back of Laure’s neck, Laure sniffing her palm after she’s touched the steering wheel Jean’s hands were on, their fingers gently grazing one another while a girl pounds away on a pinball machine – gives the escalating affair a voluptuous tactility. The film is preoccupied with the sensory experience of the couple’s mysterious, entrancing liaison.

Denis and co-screenwriter Emmanuelle Bernheim (working from Bernheim’s novel of the same name) sprinkle the film with small doses of devilish humor, such as a slow panning shot of a condom machine that begins with the contraption’s coin slot and ends with a button and the instruction: “Push all the way in.”  Given the director’s supreme command of the filmic medium, however, it’s no surprise that her tale of adventurous amour – an odyssey both frightening and thrilling – gracefully segues between the serious, the impassioned, and the droll. Friday Night is a magnificent example of film’s unmatched ability to express the unspoken, and confirmation of Denis’ status as one of the medium’s most exciting and virtuosa risk-takers.  

Directed by:
Claire Denis

Valérie Lemercier
Vincent Lindon

Written by:
Claire Denis
Emmanuelle Bernheim

NR - Not Rated.
This film has not yet
been rated.






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