Movie: Foreign movies, French movies in particular, have been a mixed blessing for me over the years. The country has produced some highly respected master directors over the years just as they have produced some pretentious hacks that are often flavor-of-the-month types in the art film circuit. One director that I have little experience with is Claire Denis. I've heard a lot of good things about her but my first chance to review one of her movies was now, with a small film by the name, Friday Night.
The movie centered on a middle aged woman, Laure, who has packed her bags and will be moving in with her boyfriend the next day. The movie leads us to believe that the move was not out of love so much as doing what is expected of her at this point in her life. After she finishes packing, she is going to meet some friends for dinner in her car. Paris is caught in a massive traffic jam due to a strike and the weather is about what you'd expect (nasty). All the people are short tempered due to the lack of progress they are making and cars are honking at one another left and right so she turns on her car stereo to drowned out the world and maintain her sanity. After being stuck in traffic for a long time, a stranger walks up to her and she invites him into her car, at which time they hit it off as only strangers can.
The stranger and her sit in the car, trapped by circumstances beyond their control, and the movie begins to show a surreal mix of fantasy (what they'd like to do) and reality (where they're stuck in the traffic jam). I'd be lying if I told you I followed it all the first time I watched it but the commentary helped clear up a number of issues for me. In all, the story is very slight but allows each of us to place ourselves in the circumstance of the couple and read into it what we like.
The direction of this one was very subtle in most ways. Even I caught a number of the veiled references made and the metaphors employed by Ms. Denis but each viewing added another layer of depth. I'm not sure I appreciated the speed by which things happened here but those of you with some patience will be well served by setting aside a quiet time to enjoy this for what it is; a small focus on larger issues. The acting was minimal this time, with much of the story going unsaid which puts a lot of pressure on the direction Ms. Denis took. Thankfully, she was up to the challenge and provided a keen look at the themes at hand. Fans of foreign films, particularly French films, will likely like this one but it's not made with the mainstream audience in mind. I'm going to rate it as Recommended but you'll find this is a movie with little middle ground (you'll either love it or hate it).
Picture: The picture was presented in it's original 1.85:1 ratio anamorphic widescreen color. There was some grain and a bit of edge enhancement on this one but the muted colors were what caught my attention the most. According to the commentary track, it was supposed to look this way as that was how the director conveyed certain aspects of the surreal nature of the movie. There were rare instances of print scratches and compression artifacts but fewer than average on a foreign movie.
Sound: The audio was presented with a choice of either a 5.1 or 2.0 Dolby Digital French track with English subtitles. The remastered 5.1 track had a lot more depth than the 2.0 track and sounded very crisp and clear most of the time. Both tracks were well handled though and the score and sound effects complimented the vocals, as sparse as they were.
Extras: The best extra, by far, was the audio commentary with director Claire Denis and a film critic, Kent Jones. It gave some background into the movie and the imagery but wasn't a great commentary compared to many others I have listened to. The other extras included some filmographies and trailers.
Final Thoughts: The direction, technical aspects and story were such that a number of you will be entertained by this one and the audio commentary will provide some understanding for those who are patient enough to sit through it. It wasn't my favorite French film of the year but it was definitely worth a look.