The Movie Waffler New Release Review - Just a Sigh | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - Just a Sigh

A struggling actress is drawn towards a handsome stranger she encounters on a morning train.

Directed by: Jérome Bonnell
Starring: Emmanuelle Devos, Gabriel Byrne

Alix (Devos), an actress struggling to keep herself financially afloat, takes an early morning train from Calais, where she is appearing in a minor part in a provincial theater production, to Paris, where she is due to audition for a film role. On the train she spots a handsome, but forlorn, stranger (Byrne) who she can't keep her eyes off. Arriving in Paris, the man, an Englishman with poor French, asks Alix for directions to a church but her limited Parisian geography means she is unable to help him. Instead, a fellow commuter interjects and the two are separated. After blowing her audition and failing to contact her Paris based boyfriend, Alix decides to follow her lust driven desires and heads to the church, seeking an encounter with the mysterious Englishman.
For most of mankind's lengthy history it's the males of our species who have been the ones to choose their mates. Historically, women waited to be chosen by a suitor, hoping for a specific partner but all too often ending up with the first one to pick them. Over the course of the last half dozen or so decades this trend has been reversed. Ask any couple and you'll find, if they're completely honest, that it was the female of the partnership who ultimately decided the relationship was going to happen. The contemporary female now has her pick of suitors while the modern male waits around like a rescued mongrel in a canine sanctuary, hoping a suitable mate brings him home before he's put to sleep.
Doug, the quiet professor of literature played here by Gabriel Byrne, is one such modern male. He's chosen almost arbitrarily by a beautiful stranger but that's enough to warrant his asking her to return to England with him, after little more than a spot of afternoon delight in a Parisian hotel room. Time is running out for Doug you see, and time is one of two themes explored in Bonnell's exhilarating new film, the other being money.
When you get to a certain age, time and money become the two most influential forces on your continued existence. These two factors are rarely explored in film, possibly as most movies are made by either young people with plenty of time on their hands or old people with plenty of money in their pockets, but Bonnell places time and money front and center in his narrative. His heroine, Alix, spends the movie clock-watching. She initially intends to catch a train back to Calais at 3pm but her growing desire for Doug forces her to keep delaying her inevitable return. Her stay in Paris, like life itself, is finite however, as she is due to appear on stage at 7.30pm, meaning the 6.05 from Gare du Nord is ultimately the movie's antagonist. It shows real skill that a storyteller can make a unit of time so ominous, a harbinger of doom as tangible as the crashing cymbals of Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much.
The advance of time is fraught with dread for women in a way men can never truly understand but Bonnell exposes the ticking clock every woman, especially those whose beauty has played a major role in their position in life, hears in their subconscious through Alix's professional struggles. Her audition ends abruptly when she refuses to divulge her age, knowing it will scupper her chances of landing the part. Later, during an argument with her sister, who she awkwardly asks for pocket money, the words "You're 43!" are brandished like some unspoken family secret, the most hurtful insult of all.
Alix's financial struggles are made clear too; she spends the movie running around Paris grasping for pocket change wherever she can find it like the heroine of some retro video game, gaining points by amassing money and love before the clock winds down. It's a game most of us spend our adult lives playing but Just a Sigh is one of the few attempts (outside the Film Noir genre) to adapt it on screen and in doing so, Bonnell racks up a high score. When the plug gets pulled on 2013, you'll find the initials JAS on this reviewer's leaderboard.

Eric Hillis