As it a sort of trademark with Claire Denis’s films, there is not nearly as much happening with the plot as there is with the context, the mood, and the character development in Vendredi Soir (Friday Evening), nor does there need to be. Instead of relying on story to fill her film, Denis takes on the arguably more challenging task of finding out what it means for two people to come together.
Laure (Valérie Lemercier) and Jean (Vincent Lindon) are two strangers who get to know each other by sharing the same vehicle in a traffic jam, the result of which is a Parisian transport strike that has left the streets clogged. Laure is on her way to a friend’s dinner party; he wants to get inside a warm vehicle from the chilly air. They don’t say much, instead conveying their attraction through brief words and looks. Much of the desire is expressed though Laure’s fantasies, giving rise to her motivations and leaving Jean as more of a mystery. She imagines introducing Jean to her friends, and him kissing a beautiful woman in a bathroom. He, on the other hand, is clearly the object in this burgeoning relationship, the person upon which the desires, fantasies and explanations are being acted upon.
Denis, again, asks more questions than she gives answers. There is no clear meaning as to why Laure embarks on the affair with Jean when she is set to move in with her boyfriend, other than there is a powerful attraction at play. Nor is the reason for her abandoning her dinner party once she does get out of the car, choosing to instead prolong her interaction with Jean.
Cinematographer Agnès Godard, a Denis regular, is near the top of her game in Vendredi Soir, placing the camera in all the right places so as to make the viewer a voyeur without crudity. The camera follows the couple almost into bed with them at the hotel and tracks their facial expressions and gestures in the car, fleshing out the movie that renders words unnecessary. It is rare to see a film that doesn’t feel silence despite the absence of words, but Godard manages it beautifully here, always saying as much is necessary with the camera. The movie is filmed in a subdued palette, cozy and intimate in one breath and mysterious in the other. Colours run into each other, giving the impression of a seamless transition from one feeling to another, and one interaction to a related fantasy.
The end result is a dreamy, romantic movie that says more than it speaks, challenging viewers to preconceived notions of what it means for an affair to take hold.