Discovering Desire: A Review of the Film "Friday Night"

by Lisabet Sarai

Directed by Claire Denis
Starring Valèrie Lemercier and Vincent Lindon
In French with English subtitles

Laure (Valèrie Lemercier) has her life organized and under control. Our first introduction to her is via the cardboard cartons that she has packed and neatly labeled in preparation for her move, the next morning, across the city to live with her lover. "Summer clothing", "Linens", "For mother" ("Por maman"), the boxes declare, highly legible, and somehow more poetic in French.

She has decided what to keep and what to throw away. (The concierge gleefully helps herself to the discards.) She knows exactly what she's doing. Finished with her packing, she takes a bath, calls her boyfriend François to tell him that she'll see him tomorrow, and heads out to drive to a friend's for dinner, a box labeled "For charity" in her back seat.

The world is messy, though, and far from orderly. Laure becomes embroiled in a hellish traffic jam, engendered by a public transit strike. Order begins to unravel as Laure, her car paralyzed by the stopped vehicles around her, rummages in the charity box, having second thoughts about her carefully considered decisions.

A cloying radio announcer encourages drivers to show consideration for their fellows and offer rides to stranded strangers. When a rugged, Belmondo-esque man (Vincent Lindon) asks if she'll give him a lift, she agrees. That simple action removes them both from the normal flow of the Paris night, into some other state of being where the only truth is their mutual desire.

"Friday Night" is remarkable for the palpable sense of mutual attraction it manages to convey, with scarcely any dialog. Jean, Laure's passenger, offers her a cigarette. She declines, saying that she has quit, but when he lights up, her nostrils flare in sensual appreciation. He drives her, backwards, at breakneck pace though the city, then leaves her when he senses her alarm. She sniffs the steering wheel, seeking his scent, then goes off prowling the back streets to find him.

Their connection is raw, tender and wonderfully honest. Neither tries to pretend not to want the other. Yet the progress of the film, and their serendipitous relationship, is leisurely. There is time for a coffee in a late night tabac, and later, for an afterhours dinner during which the two lovers devour each other with their eyes with every bite.

When they first arrive in their marginally seedy hotel room, they cling to each other, groping through heavy winter coats, purely grateful to be able to finally touch. Their encounters are gorgeously erotic because of the obviously mutual nature of their desire. They are not using each other. Though strangers, the intensity of their connection makes them generous, even loving.

As Friday night creeps toward Saturday morning, Laure reclaims her "normal" life. She leaves Jean asleep (after trying unsuccessfully to wake him him to say goodbye). It seems sinful that she should abandon a connection so joyous and sustaining. At the same time, anyone with experience of the world must wonder how long the magic of Friday night could remain alive. Perhaps it is better for her to relinquish it while it is still so beguiling and potent.

"Friday Night" is simple and true. This is a slice of Paris life. The director makes it clear that Jean and Laure are ordinary people, caught for a moment, a night, in something extraordinary. The film begins with views of the old Paris roofs, bristling with chimneys, lit windows offering portals into many individual lives. Later, in the traffic jam, Ms. Denis focuses in on the drivers of the adjacent cars and the people on the street. Her message is clear; any one of these people might have his or her own story, just as intense and magical.

While I watched the film, I had a sense that it was a bit too slow, too dreamy. Afterwards, though, it clung to me like the scent of a lover who has gone. I found myself fascinated by the notion of this adventure, this peak experience, that manifested in the interstice between Laure's old and new lives. Change makes us susceptible to the unexpected, the cataclysmic, the ecstatic. One left the movie with the sense that Laure, even as she returned to her chosen path, had grown beyond the person that she had been on Friday afternoon.


Lisabet Sarai has been writing ever since she learned how to hold a pencil. She is the author of three erotic novels, "Raw Silk", "Incognito", and "Ruby's Rules", and the co-editor, with S.F. Mayfair, of the anthology "Sacred Exchange", which explores the spiritual aspects of BDSM relationships. Visit her website, Lisabet Sarai's Fantasy Factory for more information and samples of her writing.

Discovering Desire:
A Review of the Film "Friday Night"
© 2003 Lisabet Sarai






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