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The French have an expression that translates to “seated between two chairs,” which means to be on the fence, caught between two opposing forces or positions. Such a phrase neatly sums up the predicament at the heart of Just a Sigh (Le temps de l’aventure), about a harried fortysomething actress’ day-long fling with a stoical British stranger she meets on the train.
But it also sums up what both works and doesn’t work in this certifiable tweener from writer-director Jerome Bonnell (The Queen of Clubs), who delivers a film that’s half Brief Encounter meets An Affair of Love, half — insert any French midlife crisis comedy here — resulting in an offbeat melange that never quite finds its mojo despite terrific lead turns from Emmanuelle Devos and Gabriel Byrne.
Distributed locally by Le Pacte on April 10, the film managed to score decent numbers with only a modest release, and should see theatrical in Francophone and Euro territories, including co-producing partners Belgium, Ireland and the U.K. Given its cast and pitch, and despite its weak English-language title, a Stateside art-house pickup is probable following an international premiere in competition at Tribeca.
While traveling from Calais to Paris for an audition, Alix (Devos) crosses glances with an unnamed professor (Byrne) heading in to attend the funeral of a former lover. Even if the two never speak, they make enough eye contact to set the ball rolling for Alix’s eventual pursuit of the man outside a Parisian church, then at a bar afterward, and finally, in his hotel room.
Giving new meaning to the term “coming on strong,” Alix’s erratic behavior is perhaps justified by the fact that she’s well, an actress, but Bonnell offers hints that there’s more brewing beneath the service, particularly with regards to an unseen boyfriend (voiced by Denis Menochet) who never picks up the phone when she needs him to.
But what’s less explainable is how quickly the film shifts tone from intimate bedroom drama to giddy street comedy, as we follow Alix back and forth between her lover’s arms and several hapless encounters, including the aforementioned audition and a visit with her sister (Aurelia Petit) and brother-in-law (Laurent Capelluto) that turns into pure farce, screaming and bitch-slapping included.
Luckily, Devos (Kings and Queen, The Other Son) absolutely has the range to jump from one genre to the other, a talent best exemplified in the tryout scene, where within a single take she progresses from lighthearted distress to painful desperation. Yet as much as she renders Alix’s foibles in a credible way, the constant mood changes make Just a Sigh rather tough to swallow as a whole, while the requisite plot mechanisms (forgotten iPhone, malfunctioning ATM card) feel contrived compared to the emotions they’re meant to uncover, especially during the inevitable should-I-stay-or-go finale.
As the forlorn Brit lover, Byrne delivers a scaled-down and soft-spoken performance, his character retreating into the background the more Alix’s quandary takes center stage. But the two ultimately evolve into a convincing fly-by-night couple, with Devos effectively delivering all the English dialogues and Byrne playing the compassionate listener with rigor and elegance.
Regular DP Pascal Lagriffoul captures the action with a mix of over-the-shoulder shots and extended long takes, turning the chattier comic scenes into Boulevard-style set pieces. Music by Vivaldi, Verdi and Mozart helps to compensate for the constant tonal changes, although it also skews toward the dramatic at times when the film seems to be heading the other way.
Production companies: Rectangle Pictures, Scope Pictures, Element Pictures, France 3 Cinema, Alvy Distribution
Cast: Emmanuelle Devos, Gabriel Byrne, Gilles Privat, Aurelia Petit, Laurent Capelluto
Director, screenwriter: Jerome Bonnell
Producer: Edouard Weil
Director of photography: Pascal Lagriffoul
Production designer: Anna Bachala
Costume designer: Carole Gerard
Editor: Julie Dupre
Sales: Le Pacte
No rating, 104 minutes
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