Having watched French films for many years I am rarely disappointed. You like something sophisticated and creative you can find it. Like something mainstream the French are on par with Hollywood but I can’t say that is a plus. That is the reason I turned to watching French films as they once had their own distinct identity.
“The Passengers of the Night” is a rather uninspiring film centering on family drama. And the drama is not cheerful for most of the film. Elisabeth (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is in pain after a break-up with her husband after battling breast cancer. Her son Matthias is a bit of a wannabe poet and daughter Judith a political activist.
Great shots of Paris throughout the film many retro.
The film starts on May 10, 1981 when François Mitterrand is elected French President. Great socialist hopes contrasted against the despair enveloping Elisabeth.
Elisabeth lands a job at the switchboard for a late-night radio show “Passengers in the Night”. The show is hosted by Vanda Dorval (Emanuelle Béart) a tightly wound woman that sounds like melted butter on the air. One night a guest Talula speaks with Vanda. She is an 18-year-old homeless street waif that inexplicably Elisabeth takes home feeling sorry for the lass. Talula appears to be a lovely girl and Matthias falls for her and the compulsory French sex scene ensues even though Talula says to Matthias that she is not the girl for him giving no reasons. She disappears to reappear in 1984 as a junkie. She then seems to clean up her act and after Matthias declares his love for her she disappears again.
Elisabeth works a second job as a librarian and starts to fill in for Vanda who is off for some reason. Elisabeth is in a happy relationship with Hugo a man she met in the library. The film ends with the family dancing to a Jules Dassin song and all seems to end happily.
While the director’s statement by Mikhaël Hers presents the concepts behind the movie in personal terms they may mean more to the director than the average viewer. Yes the shots of the trains and subways is symbolic of passengers but hardly clever.
While the plot may be a bit pedantic Gainsbourg’s performance as Elisabeth is compelling. When sorrow, compassion, despair, optimism, grit or tenderness is called for she delivers a commanding performance. My goodness that little grin of hers and her eternal calmness is amazing and highly worth the watch. Emanuelle Béart as Vanda deserves a round of applause as a lovable tyrant.
The film is directed by Mikhaël Hers and opened in Canada on July 1. In French with English subtitles.
You can see the trailer here https://vimeo.com/704625452
RKS Film Rating 86/100.
As for Gainsbourg will she be in the running for best actress in the 2022 César Awards?