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Just a Sigh

Alix (Emmanuelle Devos) is not having a good day. An actress in her 40s still looking for her big break, she’s stuck doing Ibsen in the French port town of Calais, in a production that is past due on paying her salary. She takes a day trip to Paris for an audition during which she forgets to charge her phone, can’t get any money because her credit card is maxed out, and can’t get hold of her boyfriend of eight years.

Is it any wonder she decides to find that hot guy she saw on the train?

Of course these things are relative, and if Gabriel Byrne at the age of 63 is not your idea of “hot,” then you’re not the audience for this French drama, whose American title seems the opposite of its original, Le temps de l’aventure (Time of Adventure).

The film takes place in a 24-hour period, and it’s hard not to be reminded of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, also about a couple who meet on a train in Europe and spend a single day together. But the two are more different than similar. Devos is alone for most of the film, which is largely about watching her deal with the life she has made for herself. (She is stressed out for one other reason, a big one, but as the script holds it for the third act I won’t give it away here.) A major star in France, she has an intense face that isn’t conventionally attractive but which commands the screen. During her audition, she is asked to do the same scene in two different ways, all of which is filmed as a single take, and it’s an impressive display.

As written and directed by Jérôme Bonnell, the film itself is something of an odd duck. It sets up scenes that sound comic but aren’t played for laughs, like when her initial meeting with Byrne keeps getting interrupted by a mournful academic who wants to discuss international economics with her. Alix’s wanderings around Paris are mostly filmed naturalistically with no musical score. But when Bonnell does add music, it’s so portentous—sacred choral pieces by Mozart and Verdi, a gloomy Vivaldi violin concerto—that the effect seems ludicrous: Is he pulling our legs?

In one scene Alix’s brother-in-law tells her his thoughts on Pascal’s interpretation of happiness as something man either remembers or anticipates, but never actually enjoys. I came away from the movie fascinated by Devos but uncertain whether Bonnell meant to illustrate or counter that argument. C’est la vie, say no more.

Watch the trailer for Just a Sigh

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