Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Films I Love #29: Vendredi soir (Claire Denis, 2001)


Vendredi soir is not French director Claire Denis' best known or most critically lauded film, but it is her sweetest, her warmest, her most romantic, her most stripped down and simple, a purely sensual ode to desire and sex. The images of Denis' long-time cinematographer, Agnès Godard, are always lush and colorful and sumptuous, and she outdoes herself here, creating a sensuous moving postcard of Paris on a cold, rainy, busy Friday night. On the eve of moving in with her boyfriend, Laure (Valérie Lemercier) finishes packing and then goes out to spend the evening with friends. But Paris is at a standstill, with a tremendous traffic jam keeping her near-stopped. Along the way, she picks up a stranger named Jean (Vincent Lindon), who joins her in the slowly moving car to stay out of the cold. The pair then spend the night together, having sex at a nearby hotel, eating dinner, exchanging laconic conversation but mostly remaining strangers, locked in their own worlds.

Denis never probes these characters psychologically, never provides any hint of why they sleep together, why they're drawn to each other. She never ventures into their heads, lingering instead on the surface. This is, in one sense, a kind of feminist statement, suggesting that women can initiate and enjoy casual sex for its own sake as much as men, but more deeply the film is simply a celebration of sex and sensual pleasure, period. Denis presents the encounter itself almost entirely in abstracted closeups: chests pressing together, fingers running along bare skin, feet rubbing together, legs crossing over one another, eyes peeking out from around the contours of the other's body. Denis surrounds the sex scenes with whimsical touches, bits of rough but clever animation, ways of opening up the night, the city, the rain, the traffic to the same level of sensual enjoyment as the sex itself. Bored in traffic, Laure playfully imagines the letters on a car's rear bumper rearranging themselves, a stray "S" dancing along the car's rain-streaked surface. At dinner, the toppings on a pizza form a smiling face. The film is all about sensual pleasure, the little joys of daily life, and Denis emphasizes small gestures, finding the beauty and poetry in everything from the lights of the city to the smoke curling from the tip of a cigarette to the act of making love.

5 comments:

Radiation Cinema! said...

Ed: I have not heard of this film, but you have peaked my interest. Which defines exactly why I always check new posts on this blog. - Mykal from Radiation Dinema!

Ed Howard said...

Mykal, I'm glad I could introduce this great film to you. Denis' filmography is well-worth exploring in depth, she's one of my favorite modern directors.

Sam Juliano said...

Fair enough Ed, I am also on the short-end of this equation, as I never saw this particular film, unfortunately. I know Denis's work--her first film CHOCOLAT, set in colonial Africa, and the later BEAU TRAVAIL, both of which were modestly effective sensory pieces. Another beautifully conveyed piece with great screen caps.

Ed Howard said...

"Modestly effective"? Not words I ever expected to hear to describe any of Denis' films, let alone the sublime Beau travail (which I could've easily picked here as well). Her beautiful images in that film are devastating, and the film's intertextual connections to both Billy Budd and Jean-Luc Godard supplement Denis' signature theme, the investigation of the lingering effects of colonialism on people and nations.

Sam Juliano said...

Fair enough Ed. I actually DO have stronger feelings for BEAU TRAVAIL, but that 'modestly effective' quip is applicable for CHOCOLAT in my perception.