A Few Days in September aka “Quelques Jours en Septembre” is described as follows:
Ten days before 9/11… Irene (Juliette Binoche), a French secret service operative, is on a mission to help Elliot (Nick Nolte), a rogue CIA agent who has disappeared with top-secret intelligence about the immediate future of the world.When a Paris rendezvous goes wrong, Irene finds herself in a race against time to uncover the truth. Following behind is an eccentric assassin (John Turturro) intent on tracking down Elliot and the crucial piece of information he holds.
Of course, as the film opens with the date September 5th, 2001 imprinted on the screen, we all can connect the unseen dots before they have arrived. This is going to be a thriller about intelligence information that needs to be discovered. A blurb I read told me that the film would be set in both Paris and Venice. That along with the main cast – Binoche, Turturro, and Nolte was enough to convince me to add the film to my Netflix queue.
So I settled down in front of the Samsung hoping for an edge of the seat thriller. What I got was neither thrilling nor even close to the edge of the seat. Mostly, it was a lot of talk (a la French auteur Eric Rohmer’s films) mixed with a lot of unfocused visuals. As this film is made in France – the talking is mostly in French with English and Arabic tossed in. The unfocused visuals were meant to represent the POV of Irene, who without her glasses – everything is fuzzy and out of focus. She says she takes off her glasses (in my view far too often) to get ‘a different view’ of things. Like the Claritin commercials – only more so.
As for Nolte as ‘Elliot’ – for the longest time I thought he was a made up person – you know, talked about but never seen, much like George Kaplan – the non-existent character in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. But he does show up – albeit 93 minutes in.
When we don’t have Elliot in our view (like 95% of the film) – we watch as Turturro’s assassin tracks Irene and Elliot’s two adult children. He spouts poetry at every turn – including some of poet T.S. Eliot’s words that landed in the Andrew Lloyd Webber theatrical musical Cats which played on Broadway from 1982 to September of 2000 – to the tune of nearly 7500 performances.
Turturro’s assassin is called William Pound, He works for parties unknown but we can assume his paymasters are the CIA. He is a master of the handgun, the knife, and assorted long guns. He keeps close phone contact with his shrink who he consults after each killing. So yes, the quirky John Turturro was an excellent choice as the quirky assassin.
Irene is also good with a gun, as is Elliot’s daughter Orlando (Sara Forestier). Elliot’s son David is played by Tom Riley, and he’s the only one lacking proficiency in weaponry. Irene is rather clever about subterfuge, and is rather excellent at misleading and misdirecting William Pound.
I wish I could say things really percolate in this film – but they rarely rise above a slow simmer. People are shot or knifed – after which we see spreading pools of blood a few times. But there are no sign of anyone else in the French Surete (DST) or any other officers of the law.
We don’t see much of Paris either.
On the other hand – we do get a some nice views of Venice. Irene, David and Orlando take the train from Paris to Venice. Then a water taxi to some place in Venice. Yes we see the vaporettos (the Venice version of a bus – only on water) gliding by – then later a big cruise ship – but nary a gondola.
The film is written and directed by Santiago Amigorena – and beneath all the dull talk, and infrequent action, he’s floating an agenda of sorts. An agenda that is about a conspiracy. Unfortunately the only things that worked were the blurred and fuzzy tracking shots – as I said these are a representation of Irene’s s being severely short-sighted. But of course – they served no practical purpose and gave the viewers a sense of being uncomfortable if not an actual headache..
Binoche was otherwise very cool, and looked good in her glasses but no one else stood out. The story which should have had much more dramatic tension was simply burdened with too many directorial flourishes and conceits which failed to elevate the film at all.
I guarantee you will never ever see a shootout so poorly executed. First people facing each other like in a duel with full sound. Then soundless, then from outside the building as the room lighted then darkened between muzzle flashes. Shameful, just shameful. I can’t even recommend this film as something to see if you had been to Paris or Venice and want another look. One point five out of five and definitely not recommended.