erasing clouds

On DVD: Friday Night (Vendredi Soir)

reviewed by dave heaton

If you break cinema down to its essential parts, and think of a movie as merely a series of images that flash before your eyes…then the French film Friday Night is an unqualified joy. On the other hand, if you look to the film for storytelling or characterization, you might leave the film feeling unsatisfied.

Friday Night, as the title implies, is one night in a woman's life, no more, no less. The story can be told using a minimum of words: the night before a woman is to move in with her boyfriend, she gets caught in a monumental traffic jam and meets a man, with whom she goes to dinner and then has sex with in a hotel room. Little attention is paid to who these people are or what they're all about; you feel like you're observing strangers.

But you there's an intimacy and warmth to every shot of the film which more than makes up for the thinness of the plot. The camera closes in on walls, on skin, on objects in a way that makes you feel like you can reach out and grab them. Director Claire Denis and cinematographer Agnes Godard give the film a dreamy atmosphere which is almost indescribable…sometimes the visceral pleasures of watching a film just can't be translated into words.

Paris glows throughout the film. In the lengthy traffic jam scene which takes up nearly the first third of the film, car lights shine through the rain like something magical, and cars alternately inch forward like they're part of a complicated ballet. In one shot, one of the letter's of the car brand jumps off the car to dance, but most of the film achieves a feeling of fantasy without anything this overtly unreal happening.

Ultimately Friday Night works mostly as a visual delight that rivals the most enticing images from film history. As a story it feels slight to say the least, like a psychological character study that tells you next to nothing about any of the characters. But as a series of beautiful pictures, it's a charmer.

Issue 17, November 2003

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