Thursday, January 04, 2007

Friday Night (Denis, 2002)

Free of extraneous drama or verbiage, Claire Denis’ delightful film, Friday Night chooses to focus on basically one event in the life of an ordinary woman. What we learn initially about Laure, our protagonist, is very basic. We know that she is packing up her apartment and preparing to move in with a man named Francois. Quietly, she lingers over a party dress and wonders, half-muttering to herself, whether or not it is something she should keep. Left alone, without anyone to please, Clare’s preparations resemble a solemn ritual more than a task filled with giddy excitement. Clare does not seem overtly sad; however, there is no mistaking her trepidation. Her anxiety, as best we can tell, does not stem from an abusive boyfriend or anything else quite so dramatic. She merely has typical concerns that are likely to accompany the merging of two lives. Over the course of Friday night, she will set out for dinner plans with a female companion, get caught in traffic because of a Parisian transit strike and hook up for a one-night stand with an attractive stranger. Clearly that last bit is going to be awfully difficult to explain to Francois.

The thrilling aspect of Denis’ film is the way in which she offers an explanation of Laure’s impulsive action not through words or complicated psychology, but rather by powerfully evoking the intoxicating spirit of the evening. This is a difficult sensation to try to convey to someone who has not seen the film - but despite the fact that there are longs stretches in the film where nothing significant happens, it is the way that Denis lingers over specific details that gives Laure’s journey texture and shape. Laure’s infidelity is entirely free of malice and ultimately can only be described as selfish in a positive sense. Would Francois (who we never see) be understanding if he were to find out? Of course not. But unlike Francois, we get to be there with Laure every step of the way. We get to hear the radio message that encourages drivers to pick up hitchhikers. We get to see Laure struggle initially with fear and distrust of a male stranger. Merely by observing her actions, we come to understand her need to retain independence and control of her life. There are even tiny bits of cinema magic, so subtle that you may wonder if you really saw them.

To describe Denis’ film as surreal would be far too strong. To describe it as naturalistic would be selling it short. The events that occur are all quite plausible, and yet with her pacing, editing and frequent close-ups, Denis creates a kind of light haze that helps us to process why Laure makes her decision. Most love affairs – both in cinema and in life – are reckless, with the lack on control fueling the passion. Not so with Laure, as Denis makes her path seem virtually inevitable. Although he would no doubt be outraged to learn what has transpired - as would most of us in his situation - Francois has, by the end of the film, inherited a lover more likely to be secure with her pivotal decision to give up a share of her independence.



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