Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Viewers interested in seeing Juliette Binoche's steamy breakout role will find Rendez-vous
a stylish erotic story with artsy touches and fine performances. An uninhibited woman seeks
her destiny through love and the theater and crosses paths with three men who relate to her in
very different ways. The luminous Binoche holds it all together; we understand
immediately why she'd become a hot prospect for films like The Unbearable Lightness of
Being, The Three Colors Trilogy and The English Patient. Any self-styled
adventurous young woman will be impressed by this French girl's willingness to live the wild life.
New to Paris, provincial Nina (Juliette Binoche) takes a tiny role in a silly play
while encouraging every boy who comes along to become her lover. In disentangling herself from a
previous boyfriend she meets a renting agent, the conventional Paulo
(Wadeck Stanczack) who is immediately smitten. But she's also attracted by his unstable roommate
Quentin (Lambert Wilson), a destructive wild man who performs in sex shows. He challenges Nina to
be as "courageous" about life as he is. Finally, a stage director named Scrutzler (Jean-Louis Trintignant)
meets Nina while trying to convince Quentin to take the lead in his staging of Romeo
and Juliet. The actress who played Juliet in his previous production died under mysterious
circumstances, and Scrutzler wants Nina to take her place.
Rendez-vous is an interesting movie that actually has something to say about its erotic
subject matter. Rather like Theresa Russell in Nicholas Roeg's Bad Timing, Ms. Binoche achieves
some strong emotional effects by casting off inhibitions. The sex scenes are suggestive rather than
explicit, yet the nudity on the part of the female star is startling in its openness. The picture
means business and has a serious story to tell.
Young Nina is sexually curious and aggressive, and interested in living her life in the
present tense. She says exactly that to Paulo, reminding us of the Jean-Luc Godard film Vivre
sa vie. But Nina does not become a prostitute or the object of a moral lesson. Whereas other
women can sense a man's intentions, Nina is more concerned that her boyfriend is judging her or
becoming possessive. Paulo will put up with some odd behavior but he what he really wants is a
standard-issue girlfriend and cannot accept Nina's desire for independence. Because Paulo represents
the conventional male, there's no small amount of tension as Nina challenges and frustrates him -
or is she simply refusing to behave in a conventional, safe manner?
The abusive and dangerous Quentin has a live-every-moment-to-the-hilt quality that fascinates
Nina. She enjoys being the focus of his obsessions. By any normal measure he behaves like a creep,
stalking Nina, hounding her and confronting her with the outrageous suggestion that she join him as
a performer in the live sex show. He has the notion that those performances demonstrate an
honesty that cuts through the b.s. of normal living. It's all about putting one's self on the
edge. That excites something in Nina, even when she agrees with Paulo that Quentin is (to put
it mildly) a dangerous man.
The success of Rendez-vous is that it creates an interior logic wherein these crazy
characterizations can function. It's all in the commitment of the actors and the vision of the
director that the highly stylized situation holds our interest. It is a Parisian fantasy, as
these people are dramatic concepts untouched by most of the ordinary problems in reality - Nina
seems to live out of a box and yet always has something great to wear.
With the arrival of Jean-Louis Trintignant's Scrutzler it looks as if we're heading into
Vertigo territory. Both Scrutzler and Quentin are haunted by a past tragedy with an actress
playing Juliet. Nina is chosen for the role by Scrutzler solely because of her relationship
with Quentin. Whatever stage magic Scrutzler's first Juliet had, it was some kind of animating
madness that she passed on to Quentin, and Quentin has now passed it on to Nina. Depending on
one's point of view, it all becomes intriguing - or absurd. True to form for French art films, by
the time the credits are rolling some questions in the movie are left unresolved. The shallow
Nina is now sufficiently in touch with her emotions, and is perhaps ready to be a really decent Juliet.
Viewers suspicious of oversexed content may want to stay away as there are many provocative
moments here - not in the typical exploitative sense but disturbing just the same. I'd rate it a
hard "R." Anyone used to the general run of sex-themed R rated movies will probably not be all that
The director and his main actors have extensive French credits although Ms. Binoche and the famed
Trintignant are the best-known names here. Lambert Wilson will be familiar to some as Merovingian
in the Matrix
sequels. A secondary player named Dominique Lavanant is apparently a household name in France, after a
series of TV shows playing a character named Imogène.
Home Vision Entertainment's DVD of Rendez-vous has a clean and luminous enhanced transfer of
this stylishly shot picture. The mono sound is also clear and in perfect shape. The only extras are
a trailer and some good liner notes by film writer Brian McFarlane. Rendez-vous is a difficult
movie to describe fairly - a synopsis sounds trite and any explanation of the erotic content makes
the film appear exploitative. Thanks to an excellent cast and good direction, the film
comes off very well.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Movie: Very Good
Supplements: trailer, essay
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: March 13, 2005
Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson