Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
A Few Days in September (Quelques jours en septembre) is a frustratingly trite spy drama. Little tension is generated as a trio of beautiful people visits photogenic European capitols and trades pithy observances about international politics. Agents are murdered but young lovers have time for playful kissing games. Meanwhile, the oncoming 9/11 calamity is utilized as a 'meaningful' suspense mechanism.
Synopsis: French 'spy teacher' Iréne Montano (Juliette Binoche) does her best to follow the instructions of Elliott (Nick Nolte), an important intelligence figure who changed his identity and disappeared ten years ago. Montano collects Elliott's bitter daughter Orlando (Sara Forestier) from a farm. They are soon joined by Elliott's stepson David (Tom Riley), but Montano has difficulty reuniting the family. Avoiding the neurotic assassin William Pound (John Turturro), the three slip from Paris to Venice, there to await the mysterious absent father. Elliott has advised a group of foreign investors to pull their investments from U.S. banks before 9.11.01, but nobody knows why.
A Few Days in September is an expensively filmed, laughably inept Euro thriller. French star Juliette Binoche plays Montano, a charming but deadly agent neck deep in a life-threatening situation. She must be quite a pro because when mysterious strangers break into her house she receives them with good manners and a charming smile. Farm girl Orlando packs a fancy chrome revolver in her underwear drawer. She intends to use it to kill her father, for abandoning her ten years before. Elliott's son David, or at least he says he's his son, is a sweet young American untroubled by having two pistol-packing French women for companions. Sitting in his regulation spy stakeout van, John Turturro's assassin William Pound waits for an opportunity to ambush Elliott, reciting poetry to pass the time. Pound makes repeated calls to his analyst, to relieve the psychic strain of killing people.
The life of a spy is one irony after another. Montano takes her charges to lunch, and cheerfully orders soup for the assassin waiting in the car. Although she knows that William Pound is a knife-wielding psycho, she doesn't call the police to have him picked up. She never questions whether or not David is really Elliott's son. For that matter, Montano follows the instructions of two shifty Middle Eastern financiers that claim to be in contact with Elliott, without ever asking for proof. The spy business seems to have changed, in that the best way to handle a dangerous situation is to trust suspicious people and pretend that dangerous killers will not be a problem.
This meandering espionage nonsense is balanced by writer-director Santiago Amigorena's attempt at a sensitive story of intimate relationships. Binoche's Montana plays den mother to a pair of bickering siblings, a nice American kid and a pouty French lass. But wait! The attractive youngsters are not related by blood, so the issue of incest isn't a problem after all. It's only a matter of time before the pillow fights and hand-slapping games lead to smooching and soft-focus love scenes. As in a Woody Allen film, David jokingly chases Orlando around an outdoor market with two handfuls of octopus, so they must be in love. With unknown killers lurking in the shadows, the trio get blind drunk together, giving Montana the opportunity to assert her sexuality by suggesting to Orlando that one of them should take David to bed. Unfortunately, no 'French' love arrangement ensues. We instead get a scene in which the pouty Orlando recites a list of things that are rotten about America. The bitter 20 year-old, raised on a farm by her grandmother, is also an accomplished critic of world affairs.
A Few Days in September gets by for at least half an hour on the charm of Juliette Binoche and some pretty scenery, after which we simply mark time. As the elusive Elliott, guest star Nick Nolte shows up for about four minutes of paternal baloney, resolving the father-daughter issue. Unfortunately, William Pound's itchy finger trigger is motivated by his own 'father' issues, as Elliott was once his mentor. None of this is the slightest bit believable or compelling.
As it turns out, the movie's implied relationship to 9/11 is also a sham; this isn't a "stop the disaster" story like John Frankenheimer's 1977 Black Sunday. The shady Saudi bankers have nothing to do with terrorist organizations; Elliott is advising them to pull their New York investments because he's picked up vibes from the intelligence network that something big is about to happen. A Few Days in September's only 9/11 connection is its unsupported assertion that the intelligence community knew that an attack was imminent: Orlando has something new to add to her "what's rotten with America" list. The two lovers stare meaningfully out to sea, as they discuss what they'll do with their inherited millions.
Koch Lorber's DVD of A Few Days in September looks quite good in a colorful enhanced transfer; these spies hang out in attractive Paris neighborhoods and beautiful Venetian canal settings. Director Santiago Amigorena makes a big issue of Iréne Montano's poor eyesight by filming several scenes from her out-of-focus POV. But the gag has no discernable payoff in the plot, and the director makes additional use of shallow-focus for scenes that don't represent what Montano sees, including his opening shot. Perhaps Montana's myopia represents the human inability to see situations "in depth?" In this picture anything is possible. The one extra is a theatrical trailer.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
A Few Days in September rates:
Video: Very Good
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: September 20, 2007
Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson
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