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"vendredi soir (friday night)" (2002) - claire denis
posted on 24-Aug-2003 by anton
catherine breillat and claire denis are my favorites among the new generation of french directors that push the limits of sensuality in all its forms and at the same time posses a very individual viewpoint (it is interesting to note that both of them are women, but as breillat puts it, they are directors first).

the story is very simple, almost trivial, especially considering almost non-existing dialog and lack of any "action" in its usual sense. in a sense, it is an excellent people-watching treat - I enjoyed simply observing passing characters, so comfortable and so isolated in their cars, these little inner worlds that pass by. the overall pace is natural, it never seems self-indulgent or manipulative, it creates a sense of "presence," rather than the usual storytelling devices aimed at creating tension.

it would be appropriate to recall that claire denis worked with jarmusch; from this perspective friday night does remind you a lot of stranger than paradise or night on earth. her characters have similar feel of detachment, this inner "coolness"; her laconic storytelling devices are similar, but at the same time her visuals are so lush, so sensual, so "full." if you have seen her previous trouble every day, you will certainly recognize the trademark close-ups and abundance of (almost) abstracted shots (we never get sweeping panoramic views or large open spaces, and yet we never feel bound, restricted), and of course this ringing, vibrant, almost delirious, refined sensuality, that in case of friday night became a lot more subtle, muted, without the sharpness of danger and death.

the camera slowly reveals the main character, creating this very intimate, very personal portrait (almost voyeuristic, but strangely pure); as if by accident you see her legs as she stretches, the way camera almost brushes against her cheek, circles her shoulders, registers a trace of half-smile on her face. there is no instant flashiness usually attributed to hollywood divas, but she is gradually becoming more and more alluring, consuming your attention with her touching simplicity and reflective demeanor.

despite all the rainy murkiness (blurred lights and limited view that makes the settings even more "cozy"), there is a certain sharpness in the air outside, the freshness of smells, all the elements that make the atmosphere so moody.

there is this wonderful lightness to the whole story, since it is an ultimate fantasy come true without any strings attached; everything is so graceful, so easy, but at the same time, it is not the delirious "losing oneself" escapist adventure - there is a resolute sense of poignancy; it is not loneliness, but a sense of earthly weight, the weight of time and lives of characters. it is almost a reminiscent experience, a look back for her in a turning moment of her life, a way to reflect upon it. this is not the desperation of two lonely people, but almost a reaffirmation of being alive, a beautiful experience that is fully realized/understood by both.

despite all its simplicity there is a slight edge to the picture - anthropomorphism of household objects, delicately whimsical nature of her character, and puzzling momentary dreamlike shifts of storyline.

friday night leaves a lasting afterglow, the memory you keep coming back to, the sensation of comfort and intimacy, gentle romanticism; very tangible and simple memories that were created without contrived attempts at being "artistic" or "conceptual."

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