by Allan Fish
(France 2002 90m) DVD1/2
Aka. Friday Night
At times like this we need to be charitable
p Bruno Pesery d Claire Denis w Emmanuele Bernheim, Claire Denis novel Emmanuele Bernheim ph Agnes Godard ed Nelly Quettier m Dickon Hinchliffe art Katia Wyszkop
Valerie Lemercier (Laure), Vincent Lindon (Jean),
To those au fait with the oeuvre of Claire Denis, they may have turned to the directors list at the back and be amazed that there was only one of her films listed in the main body of this book. And perhaps they would be even more amazed at the film chosen. To them, it would be like only including one Hitchcock and including Marnie, a perfectly satisfactory work but by no means one of the master’s touchstones. Where is Beau Travail, where is The Intruder, where is 35 Shots of Rum? The truth is that, though they’re admirable enough in their way, they leave me cold. I know I’m in the minority, but Denis too often leaves me cold. Maybe that’s why I like Vendredi Soir; it’s anything but cold. It’s a slow burner, like one of those old Calor Gas heaters. It takes its time, but then out of nothing you realise you’ve stopped shivering.
It’s a cold night in Paris and Laure is getting ready to leave her apartment for the final time after packing everything up prior to moving in with her partner, François. She gets into her car and begins the journey, but a public transport strike is playing havoc on the roads and the traffic jam goes into gridlock. Rain is in the air, it’s chilly outside, and stationery cars offer their doors to pedestrians wandering around outside. Reticent at first, Laure opens her doors to a forty-something man called Jean, and they drive along at a funereal pace gradually becoming more relaxed in each other’s company.
This is no meeting cute, however; there’s no love here, at least not in the romantic sense of the word. These are two strangers, meeting by chance, one of whom, Laure, is on the verge of a life-changing step and has cold feet. As one might expect, the couple end up making love – no Linklater existentialism here, these two have lived long enough to know to seize the moment – before going out to dinner, returning to their room to sleep together, before parting the next morning. There’s no relationship in the offing as they can have no future, but both know this from the get-go.
As shot by Agnes Godard, Paris seems a soulless city of neon and passers by who may as well be statues. This is all about Jean and Laure and their evening together, yet one is always aware of other worlds orbiting their own, such as that of the middle-aged man and young woman in a fur coat who have a disagreement in the Italian restaurant where Laure and Jean go to eat pizza. One is left wondering who they are, what has come before and what will come after, their visit to the restaurant, and Denis leaves that door ever so slightly ajar. One always wants to know more about people, but she remains tight-lipped even about her protagonists. We know precious little about Laure and next to nothing about Jean; all we know is their need to cling to each other in long clinches, their bodies locked in sexual embrace and not knowing what to do in the calm moments between coitus. And in a world of seized moments, there’s a lovely scene where Laure dreams herself alone in the restaurant and of Jean in the unisex restroom sensually massaging the other younger woman’s thigh in the sink. It could all be so mundane and indeed many have found it so, and it’s certainly anything but erotic in the conventional sense of the word, especially in the era of Breillat and Noe, but it is a rapturous experience all the same that’s never more magical than when it’s letting you fill in the blanks. Denis is helped in this no end by his two deliberately unglamorous leads, who are all the more real just because you wouldn’t notice them walk past you on the pavement. Leave me where you want, Jean tells Laure, and she chooses the hotel room, before returning to real life, literally coming out of the side street where her fling took place and back to the main street of her future cohabitation with the unseen François.