Movie review: Le temps de l’aventure (Just a Sigh) #affff2014

(image via cineplex.com)
(image via cineplex.com)

 

Actress Alix Aubane (Emmannuelle Devos) is a woman adrift in Jérôme Bonnell’s slice-of-life drama Le temps de l’aventure (Just a Sigh).

Dashing into Paris by train to attend an audition from Calais where she is performing in what could best be described as an extremely off-Broadway play, she looks to have a lot more on her mind than just the fact that she hasn’t been paid in a while and is perilously low on cash.

Emmennuelle Devos invests the jittery Alix with a fractured restlessness which finds her unable to fully concentrate on the just-received lines she is trying to learn, leaving her with little to do but look around the carriage where she locks eyes with a morose man lost in his own thoughts (Gabriel Byrne).

Almost immediately Alix is smitten with the man, for reasons even she is later unable to articulate, looking for him with a mild desperation when at one point he disappears from his seat to make a phone call.

This inability to disconnect her attention from a man, later introduced as a British professor named Doug, with whom she has only the most cursory of conversations when he asks for directions to a church at journey’s end, manifests itself in his almost stalker-like pursuit, to the funeral he is attending at said church, the cafe where the wake takes place, and his hotel where they commence a languidly intense day long affair.

All the while, and in between their initially tentative then whole hearted embrace of each other – he is there for a funeral and desperately sad and distracted while she is thrown by her inability to get in contact with her boyfriend of eight years Antoine (voiced by Denis Ménochet) – she attends the less than stellar audition, visits and then furiously argues with her sister, and drinks coffee she is unable to pay for in cafes.

 

Needing each other in ways neither can reasonably articulate, their first real connection is a long, slow hug standing in the window of the man's hotel room (image via byrneperfection.wordpress.com)
Needing each other in ways neither can reasonably articulate, their first real connection is a long, slow hug standing in the window of the man’s hotel room (image via byrneperfection.wordpress.com)

 

Le temps de l’aventure (Just a Sigh) is suffused with Alix’s ceaseless motion, her constant exhausting search for an elixir for an ailment even she can’t identify.

When Doug asks her why she has followed him, she is unable to give him any sort of coherent explanation for why she would upend her day’s plans, which includes lunch with her mother, and potentially derail her theatre career by missing the last train back to Calais which will get her there in time for that night’s performance.

She is driven by an unnamed impulse, which we are initially led to believe is an unsettling combination of money problems, professional dissatisfaction and romantic distance from her long term partner but which Bonnell cleverly and almost unobtrusively reveals to be something else entirely later on.

Alix is clearly seeking some sort of escape from her predicament but her pursuit of and connection with Doug, who needs her almost more than she needs him, so bereft is he by his friend and one time lover’s passing, seems to involve more than that, a quest to find out if there is still time, even for a struggling forty-something actress, to go down another, potentially more satisfying fork in the road.

In other words, is it too late for life to surprise her, to delight her, to make her day to day existence seem a little less done and dusted?

It’s a question many people of her age group struggle with, and it manifests as a communion with a man she barely knows, and a first time breaking of her fidelity to Antoine, which she happily admits to Doug, she is entirely relaxed about it.

She is caught between two possible worlds, the one she has, and the one she could have if she follows Doug back to England as he impulsively invites her to do.

 

Alix is pushed and pulled by  an unceasing quest to find something anything to relieve the ennui and uncertainty of her life (image via bigmammy.fr)
Alix is pushed and pulled by an unceasing quest to find something anything to relieve the ennui and uncertainty of her life (image via bigmammy.fr)

 

Quite what she decides is something best left to a viewing of this understated but emotionally resonant film, which succeeds to a large extent on the performances and chemistry between its two leads, who make their unorthodox and highly spur of the moment coupling seem believable, necessary, and yes even sustainable.

The flirtation between the two is charming and realistically paced, with the dialogue shifting effortlessly between the French Doug has tried hard to forget after his failed love affair with the now deceased, and English which Devos delivers with consummate ease.

And the film’s shifts in tone, which make sense once you know what actually lies at the heart of her troubled mindset, between the intensity of Alix’s encounters with Doug, and her solo adventures across Paris, work surprisingly well, thanks to Devos’s versatility as an actress and a musical score featuring classical pieces by Vivaldi and Mozart, among others, that neatly augment the thematic changes without swamping them.

Le temps de l’aventure (Just a Sigh) is a movie all about crossroads, mixed emotions and the whole Sliding Doors mentality of alternate realities which may or may not be superior to the one you currently occupy, and how an ordinary person might grapple with a Sophie’s Choice between the ennui-laden known and the tantalising unknown.

It’s true brilliance is in making Alix’s jittery, impulsive adventures seem utterly realistic and understandable, the sort of emotional turning point that we would all struggle with if we were to ever lock eyes with a stranger and ponder what could be.

 

 

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