Doug: Why did you follow me?
Alix: I didn’t follow you. I went and found you. It’s very different.
Just a Sigh is not your grandfather’s Strangers on A Train, yet all that matters begins on a train from Calais to Paris. I was scanning through Netflix and found this one and was intrigued by the Netflix description –
During a break between performances in Calais, French theater actress Alix meets an enigmatic English man on the train to Paris — and the two wind up having a passionate encounter that may change both their lives.
It was just two years ago, in November of 2012 that I took the train down to Paris from Amsterdam. I even arrived at the same station as the people in the film – Gare du Nord. Alix is an actress and as the film begins, I didn’t know where we were or who was who, and then I found that this film opened with a long single take of an actress preparing to go on stage for a performance of an Ibsen play. Flashes of Birdman danced in my head – but this idea only played through a few moments ending with the second or third final bow by the on stage players.
Alix had a talk with the stage manager – nobody had been paid in two weeks – such is the life of actress performing in a road company. She needed the money because she had to take the train down to Paris for an audition for a film the next morning.
But Alix, who is played by the enigmatic as well as beautiful Emmanuelle Devos, had other issues to deal with like a phone with dying battery and the phone charger left in the Calais apartment. Like a blocked credit card because no one in the show had been paid. And only a small handful of cash.
On the train, she makes contact with the brooding Gabriel Byrne. At this point we know nothing about him. All we now is that Alix and he have made eye contact, and only eye contact. As the train pulls into Gare du Nord, Byrne, still unnamed as a character asks Alix if she can direct him to a particular church – St. Clothilde. Alix knew it vaguely, and she was trying to give in instructions in English, not her first language, but clearly Doug’s (Byrne).
But Alix is interrupted by a knowing traveler who proceeds to give Doug a point by point set of instructions including directions of the Metro and which stations to change for another line. Alix slinks off, a bit embarrassed as well as unsure if approaching this complete stranger is something she ought to do.
Plus, she has to get to the audition.
And she does, and she’s to do a single person talking on the phone. Alix squanders the first take, then, in her own words, she thinks she was a bit over the top in the second take. But off she goes. There’s some business with her trying to call her boyfriend Antoine repeatedly, and it is always the same. Can’t get to the phone, Leave a message. All in Francaise, of course.
With time on her hands, Alix heads out and before we realize it – she is at St. Clothilde’s. It is a funeral. The man on the train is a pall bearer. But he sees her. We are 30 minutes in, and there’s your set up and so begins the film, now in earnest.
The French title is Le Temps de l’aventure which translates to The Time of the Adventure. Despite a few delays and some missteps it seems clear that the two will end up in Doug’s hotel around the corner.
Here’s the thing – Alix is at loose ends continually. Antoine remains on her mind before and after her fling with Doug. She’s short of money, and is desperate to talk to Antoine who remains inaccessible. After the passionate interlude and some cuddling, Doug is asleep when Alix emerges from the shower. She dresses and leaves.
So was that it? Far from it. But I must keep the rest to myself.
What I can share are my reactions – the film is slow and deliberate. There were times when I couldn’t decide if this was a romance, a rom-com, a drama, or some sort of Gallic dream. Directed by Jerome Bonnell, the film fluctuates between preposterous and intensely engrossing. It is seriously romantic when it intends to do so, but Bonnell, who also wrote the screenplay, loses his way far too often by dragging mundane realities into this bit of sexual and romantic escapism.
He even has one character say that happiness is either something we remember or long for, but never have in the present. Then Devos as Alix must dial Antoine about a dozen times which is a lot for a 104 minute movie. As I said above, Alix is always at loose ends – she’s bad at keeping track of time, and bad with money because she hasn’t any. I think she will miss her train about three times.
Gabriel Byrne as Doug is a British Literary Professor. He’s quiet and considerate and urbane in his way – but he’s a bit on the cold side if you ask me. Alix was not Miss Bubbly either, but her eyes were much more alive than were Byrne’s. She was more honest with her eyes than was Doug who seemed to have just two modes – sad and intense
In fact Doug even remarks about being able to read Alix through her eyes.
No such claim could be made about Doug’s countenance.
Which brings me back to Emmanuelle Devos. Though some of her scripted actions are beyond perplexing, and one might not fully believe or understand her motivations – this actress knocks this role out of the park. I found her mesmerizing. It turns out that I had seen her twice before in films that I reviewed. The first was called The Beat That My Heart Skipped. I didn’t remember her while watching this one, likely because that film starred Romain Duris and Melanie Laurent. The second was Read My Lips which co-starred Vincent Cassel who we all remember from Black Swan.
If you’ve got an hour and half and want to take in a film that is not only different, and foreign, and you want to experience strangers who meet on a train then get into some passion rather than murdering their spouses – then I can recommend Just a Sigh.
Three point two five is the rating.
Here’s the trailer –