Review: The Passengers of the Night
- BERLINALE 2022: Mikhaël Hers further refines his airy, delicate and sensitive style with a magnificent existentialist film about a few years in the life of a small Parisian family in the 1980s
"There are some people, as soon as you see them, you feel as though you’d always known them." This inexplicable feeling is something that each of us has experienced. In this in-between zone where artificial differences are naturally erased and where proximity and distance, understanding and mystery are intertwined, French filmmaker Mikhaël Hers moves like a fish in water, now a master in the art of transcribing the unspeakable feelings of life, the fragments that weave ordinary (and universal) destinies.
The Passengers of the Night [+see also:
interview: Mikhaël Hers
film profile], unveiled in competition at the 72nd Berlinale, marks a very pure decantation stage in this cinematographic quest by a director who has turned his back completely on "over the top" heroes and dramatising manipulations in order to trace gentle paths on the map of vulnerability, sensitivity, gazes and benevolence towards others. A dive into the intimacy of a family to which the film offers the vast setting of Paris, the romantic temporality of a plot spanning seven years, and some very fine roles for a cast perfectly led by Charlotte Gainsbourg.
"I need to find a job, and fast! - How are you going to do that? You've never worked." After a brief prologue set in 1981, in the streets of Paris celebrating the arrival of the Left to power, The Passengers of the Night settles in a family flat overlooking the capital and the Seine from a tower in Beaugrenelle. Left by her husband, despondent and filled with doubts about her abilities, Élisabeth (Gainsbourg) must absolutely reinvent herself in a daily life she shares with her two high school children: Judith (Megan Northam) and Matthias (Quito Rayon-Richter). Chance and necessity lead her to a job as a switchboard operator in a nightly radio show hosted by Vanda Dorval (Emmanuelle Béart), whom listeners call to talk about themselves, their past and their childhood. One evening, Talulah (Noée Abita), an 18-year-old wanderer, appears on the scene and Elisabeth decides to help her and take her in. She will not leave Matthias (15) indifferent, before disappearing and reappearing four years later, while all their lives have moved on…
Infusing the calm rhythm of a profusion of sequences subtly embedded in this long-form narrative (a script developed by the director with Maud Ameline and Mariette Désert) interspersed with numerous archival images (including a short excerpt from Jacques Rivette's Pont du Nord) of a Paris transformed into a real character in the film, The Passengers of the Night (which also pays homage to Éric Rohmer's Nuits de la pleine lune) unfolds very harmoniously on its existentialist tone.
Drawing a portrait of life and the passing of time, Mikhaël Hers marvellously depicts all the micro-emotions of the present feeding the uncertainties of the future, human strengths and weaknesses in their greatest simplicity, the density of emotional ties. In his style, which seems to float on the surface of the world and events, with a very fine sense of contained atmospheres and small, essential digressions, the filmmaker has created a work that is profoundly touching, almost timeless (even if the atmosphere, particularly the music of the 1980s, is admirably reconstituted) and magnificently non-ostentatious. As one of the characters points out, "we may not have had the life we thought we'd have when we arrived, but we loved it here."
(Translated from French)
Photogallery 13/02/2022: Berlinale 2022 - Les Passagers de la nuit
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