Known for her raw and unapologetic themes, director Claire Denis is a director who is not afraid to explore bleak concepts. However, her newer film Friday Night shows Denis’s versatility and storytelling ability as well. Without traumatizing events or disconcerting situations, she creates a film that is driven entirely by emotion and desire, in a universe intimate enough to make spectators lose their sense of time and space in order to become immersed in a delightfully, sensually unique experience.
Friday Night is the story of Laure (Valérie Lemercier), a woman who, in the midst of packing to move in with her boyfriend, goes out to eat dinner at a friend’s house. She soon finds herself trapped in a monumental traffic jam that has slowed most streets in Paris. She patiently waits to move while trying desperately to kill time, until a tall dark stranger named Jean (Vincent Lindon) asks to get in her car. There is an instant attraction between the two, and it soon seems obvious that Jean and Laure encountered each other for a reason. Laure’s night changes in ways she could never have imagined, proving that fate can act in the most peculiar ways.
Friday Night is simply an utterly delightful experience. The pacing is slow, but never boring. Nothing about the film is hasty, and it takes its time to reveal its plot, bringing the spectator along as if they were in the traffic jam with Laure. Immersion is one of the film’s most valuable attributes; one experiences boredom and impatience when in the traffic jam, and exhilaration when Jean and Laure take a chance on their attraction. With beautiful shots not only of Paris, but of the actors themselves, the intimacy between spectator and film is at its maximum, and losing oneself with the characters and situations is easy.
The chemistry between Lindon and Lemercier can only be described by words such as “electric” and “explosive”. These may be cliché, yes, but they ring incessantly true. The actors have the responsibility of interaction that carries practically the entirety of the film, and they pull it off with flying colours. The nervousness and uncertainty of their initial encounter feels all too real, and one wonders how much of it is actually acting. Their initial clumsy caresses are transformed into passionate embraces that are filmed to perfection by Denis. Her shots of hands, legs, backs, hair, and numerous other body parts and objects can only be described as sensual, and she truly pulls off a sensorial experience that proves that full disclosure is not essential to achieving a heavily stimulating sequence. It is also remarkable how little dialogue there is in the film. Most of the time is spent in silence, with just the sounds of honking and rustling to fill the air. Even when Laure and Jean are together there is little to say, and it is actions and sounds that truly direct the spectator. The silence causes no problem and the film runs smoothly, remaining interesting and fluid throughout. This success is proof of a solid, confident script and directing, showing that Denis is in absolute control of what she wants to see, and turns it into a wonderful experience for the viewer.
Denis creates the perfect romance. Private, surreptitious, and passionate, it is hidden by the noises and movements of Paris. Nothing and no one can prevent it from happening, and that is where the true magic of the film lies. It fulfills a desire that most spectators could have, and it does so in a measured manner, but in the end it delivers exactly what everyone viewing wants to see: the realization of desire. There is something admirable about the way Denis manages this feat, with the utmost taste and discretion, but with an uncontainable passion that lingers long after the film ends.