On its surface — that is to say, with its story translated into sentences — French writer-director Claire Denis’ latest film seems so slight as to be on the verge of evaporation.
It’s a familiar fantasy, this time told from a woman’s point of view. The woman, Laure (Valérie Lemercier), is first seen in her apartment packing, getting ready to move in with her boyfriend. We learn from a phone conversation that she’s uneasy about making this commitment. The movers are due in the morning and on her last evening as a non-couple she’s planned to have dinner with some friends but finds herself stuck in an almost unmoving traffic jam, courtesy of a Parisian transit strike. Suddenly a handsome stranger (Vincent Lindon) appears. She gives him a lift and — quicker than you can say “voilà!” — we’re in the zipless fuckland of a small hotel for two sessions, complete with a break for a lovely pasta dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant.
Story-wise, there’s not much more to it than that. One keeps expecting Lindon to turn out to be a psycho killer — he has the kind of ostensibly good-natured but remote persona that could go either way — but it soon becomes apparent that Denis is more interested in mood than drama. And though this is the kind of movie that inevitably gets called “low-keyed,” there’s a tactile hum running through it that vibrates at a rather high pitch. As Laure enters deeper into her adventure, her surroundings become increasing eroticized, full of surfaces to be touched and sights to be savored. The elliptical style that Denis has been working on over the years (in films including Nenette et Boni and Beau Travail) is well used here to convey Laure’s subjective point of view, impressionistic and slightly unreal as she slides away from her normal life.
There’s a somewhat hokey Lifetime Channel-type movie here that occasionally peaks out from under the aesthetic layer of Denis’ approach, but for the most part the mood of intellectualized sensuality is maintained. It’s a mood that may seem occasionally pretentious but never, thankfully, precious.
Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit), Monday at 7:30 p.m. Call 313-833-3237.
Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].