Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Vendredi soir

The film Vendredi soir (international title: Friday Night) draws in and repels in equal measures: without a story, with its object of simply showing a one-night stand, the film revels in images and senses; a Paris of the congested roads because of the proverbial French strikes, but also a Paris of the now-empty, again owing to the strikes, cafés and hotels; a Paris of loneliness where the radio announcer hints the car-drivers to give a lift to passers-by for it can be "fun," to a Paris of crowds of islands roaming in the night, seeking pleasure or a final edification.

To talk of the theme, Claire Denis probably means to show a woman's decision to be a part of a one-night stand as women's lib, as some feminists do believe it to be; the final image that rests with the viewer is an ecstatic Valérie Lemercier after a night of pleasure: there is neither guilt nor a lust for an encore. She is satisfied and happy. However, that jars in when compared with the attitudes of the two brief lovers for all the time: the man (Vincent Lindon) is cool, detached, and very sure of himself (and probably, as the woman later suspects, he used, though maybe not, the ten franc change to buy condoms, before the woman had even evinced any apparent interest in him). He is not bothered if the woman leaves, but he feels welcome to her body if she would let him. The woman likes being suddenly cared for; driving alone on the streets, living a monotonous life, the man comes as an ephemeral spark to her, and she need not even take any initiative. Now if the film were to be a non-committal comment on urban life, this would have been another story that happens: even now, this does indeed remain a very credible story, but then it does not say why should it merit one and half hours of footage? Why should the film want to give a message at the end, and freeze it there: does the film itself intend to be treated like a laxative? It is strange liberation being suggested when the man is sure of his sexual possession over the woman: even if one could argue the woman has only used him instead for that night, it would only lead furthest to the conclusion that the man didn't possess her but rather she wanted to be possessed; is that the women's lib the director believes in?

As for the style in which the film is made, I would say the film is to cinema what a haiku is to poetry: nothing but the impressions of a night in an urban environment being gathered by a woman. The man is dead, the woman is dead: they are concentrated in themselves and seek each other out as ejaculations; it could be a film of masks. Haiku however are often beautiful if well-conceived, for they do not drag: this film drags for half an hour on the traffic jam and for the remaining time on the fling. I think sex scenes are often quite tragic in films: they purport to show an intimacy that gets violated the instant it is being shown on screen. Here, Denis obscures many details in darkness, or moves the camera here and there, or shows the act here to be a slow kill rather than a wild dash; however, she only succeeds in prolonging the torture: any eroticism, if it could have been imagined, is flushed out (one could have simply recorded a couple all night and called it a film!), and what remains is a sick tale of what all possiblities are present in life.

There's one saving grace of the film: the shots of Paris in the opening; rooftops, houses, a falling day.