Friday Night (Vendredi Soir)


Laura Clifford 

Robin Clifford 
Laure (Valerie Lemercier, "Les Visiteurs") packs up her apartment, preparing to begin a new life with her boyfriend.  On the way to a friend's home for a dinner party, Laure is stuck in a major traffic jam.  On a whim, she takes the advice of a radio host and invites a stranger, Jean (Vincent Lindon, "Pas de Scandale"), to share her non-moving ride to a magical journey into "Friday Night."

Claire Denis' ("Beau Travail") new film is a beautiful mood poem featuring stunning visual work by Denis cinematographer Agnes Godard.  Dialogue is minimal, even incidental, in this gloriously uplifting work of pure cinema.

With her personal belongings all packed away from sight, Laure, with freshly washed hair, seems curiously expectant cocooned within the world of her car and its radio.  She sings.  Her car's insignia dances. Godard presents a sea of enclosed capsules, their occupants peering out from within.  Once Laure invites Jean to share her ride, an elaborate dance begins - as one reaches out, the other retreats, until the force of their own movements draw them together.

Laure imagines Jean at her dinner party and feigns an excuse to her host when her fantasy results in a conflict between Jean's smoking and their baby.  Jean takes the wheel and Laure panics at the loss of control.  (Dickon Hinchliffe, whose band Tinderbox scored Denis' last film, "Trouble Every Day," reflects Laure's mood with agitation in his score.)  Jean leaves, but the two meet up again in at a coffee bar where the coy purchase of a condom takes the tentativeness out of the relationship.

Denis celebrates the sensual pleasure of a chance encounter in one of the world's most magical cities.  Anchovies realign into a smile on the face of a pizza in one of the touches of whimsy that reflect Laure's buoyant mood.  Lindon evokes movie stars of the past with his craggy features and silent strength. Lemercier is terrific at expressing shifting emotions, becoming sexier as she indulges her sense of freedom.  Godard's last shot, of a joyous Laure running into the street to great a new day, is frozen in time by Denis.  It is an image that stays with one.

"Friday Night" is a simple story that envelops the viewer in a whirl of emotions orchestrated by Denis's canny design of imagery and music and direction of her stars.


It is a bitterly cold night and Paris is gripped in yet another transit strike. Laure (Valerie Lemercier) has just left her apartment for the last time and will move in with her boyfriend the next day. But, for now, she is warmly ensconced in her car stuck in traffic, listening to music on the radio. A handsome stranger stands in the cold by the side of the road in the glow of neon lights. Laure throws caution to the wind and offers the man, Jean (Vincent Lindon), a ride but the two will, instead, celebrate a special "Vendredi Soir."

Director Claire Denis and novelist Emmanuele Bernheim have adapted for the screen the latter's book Vendredi Soir and have come up with a quiet, elegant story of two ships passing in the night. The ships happen to be Laure and Jean and the night is a Friday where Paris is grid locked by the strike. The chance meeting starts off a bit rocky with Laure regretting her kindness to the man, unsure of just what she just got into. Jean is a man of few words as he sits quietly and smokes amid the stalled traffic. As the initial tension dissolves between them, a bond forms as they, first, go to dinner and, then, to a nearby hotel.

This is a Cinderella-type story that uses very few words and lots of facial and body language by Lemercier and Vinton to convey volumes of emotion. Laure is leaving one life, that of a single woman, and is about to embark on a more permanent relationship with her unseen, unnamed boyfriend. Her chance meeting with Jean begins, as a kindness but there is some untapped emotion deep inside her that the stranger brings out. Both know that this is an affair for one night and they approach it with a hunger that surprises Laure.

"Vendredi Soir" is a two-person passion play with the emphasis on "passion." Laure knows that she is committed to her boyfriend but the anonymity of her encounter with Jean, on the cusp of major change in her life, is enough for her to justify the experience. Jean remains an enigma throughout the story as he gives Laure what she needs without demand on his part. Does Jean have a hidden and sordid past? Did he kill a man? In the context of this brief encounter it doesn't really matter as the couple (and us, the voyeuristic viewers) abandon any personal restrictions and blithely tumble into bed. The parting is bittersweet as we wonder what would have happened if they remained together for a while longer. Valerie Lemercier and Vincent Lindon have a nice chemistry going and make you believe that these two people would have a short-lived, passionate, no strings relationship.

Helmer Denis, in her previous two films ("Beau Travail" and "Trouble Every Day") journeyed from the sublime to the ridiculous. Fortunately, the writer/director, with "Vendredi Soir," is back on track, once again teaming with her favorite cinematographer, Agnes Godard, to create a tight, emotion-laden look into the lives of two people who, oh so briefly, come together. The film, with its striking views of Paris at night and the central couple, is beautiful to look at. Godard has an exceptional eye (she even made "Trouble Every Day" look good) and she makes "Vendredi Soir," for all of it nighttime locations, crisp and clear.

Although "Vendredi Soir" is getting theatrical release now, I had seen it in September of 2002 at the Venice Film Festival. I give the film credit that, now, months later, the images and emotion remain strong within me - this is at a time when the typical Hollywood film is forgotten within days. This says something for this nice, offbeat little French film. I give it a B+.

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