Friday Night, the latest film by French filmmaker Claire Denis, shows us one woman's experience on the night before she is to move in with her boyfriend. As the movie opens, we see Laure (Valérie Lemercier) packing her things into boxes for the move, deciding what to keep and discard, then taking a bath, getting into her car and driving off. The images and dialogue are minimal; in fact, there's hardly any dialogue at all throughout the course of the film. However, the soundtrack is dense and rich with all kinds of sounds and auditory information. There is also a touch of the surreal, as visual cues occasionally morph and distort.
As Laure drives off, she becomes ensnared in a hellish traffic gridlock, caused by a Parisian transportation-worker strike. It's a traffic snarl to end all traffic snarls. We know that she is supposed to be going to dinner with friends, and then on to her new apartment. The DJs on the radio encourage drivers to pick up stranded pedestrians and give them a lift. Out of the haze appears a stranger named Jean (Vincent Lindon), who climbs into Laure's passenger seat with her permission. After a bit, Jean departs, and Laure parks the car and goes off in search of him. She discovers him in a bar, and the two acknowledge their growing physical attraction by taking a room.
Friday Night is the story of a woman's last fling on the eve of her commitment to monogamy. Will the affair with Jean be a casual one-night stand or something more? Perhaps even Laure doesn't know. She seems to be trying on another man in much the same way she was trying on skirts in her apartment, deciding whether to keep or discard them.
Denis is usually a master of this kind of meditative drama. Her previous film, Beau Travail, is a stunning example of what she's capable of. But Friday Night is not nearly as pensive or rich. Lemercier's uncommon face is always lovely to watch as we try to fathom its inner depths, and cinematographer Agnès Godard's close-up shots within the car and the hotel bed lend the film a distinct physicality. Yet Friday Night never makes the leap from a little fantasy about sex with a stranger to a larger story about a woman settling down for life.