Monday, December 18, 2017

Blu-Ray Review | 4 Days in France | 2017


A man walks out on his boyfriend in Paris and heads off to the French countryside with only the gay hookup app, Grindr, for guidance in Jérôme Reybaud's captivating film, 4 Days in France. We know nothing about why Pierre (Pascal Cervo) leaves his boyfriend, Paul (Arthur Igual) asleep in their bed, with only a few possessions in a duffel bag and his trusty cellphone, but the reason, it turns out, doesn't really matter that much.

In fact, we know little about Pierre at all, besides a few snippets we pick up here and there along the way; he's in his upper 30s, works at the Sorbonne, and enjoys classical music. Otherwise, he's a blank slate, just the way Reybaud wants him. On his journey, he meets a cast of unique characters, some for sex through Grindr, others through chance encounters. And yet each makes some sort impression on him, and he makes an impression on them. Reybaud returns to each and every one of them, if only for a moment, reminding us that every person we meet has a story of their, that is somehow inexorably connected, no matter how briefly. One of the most remarkable aspects of 4 Days in France is how it returns to even the most minor characters, some of whom never speak. And yet Reybaud takes the time to observe them, treating them as an important player in a story that we will never see.

Pierre's anonymity fits in with his quest for anonymous sex. We really don't know who he is, and he remains an enigmatic figure until the very end. In that way, he's kind of an avatar for the audience, a silent guide through the small towns and hamlets of France that the screen rarely ever sees. He wanders through life with only his phone to guide him, constantly attached to the screen in front of him. His phone is at once a distraction and a lifeline, isolating and yet richly connecting. It detatches him from the breathtaking scenery around him, yet connects him to disparate people he would not otherwise have had the chance to meet. From the nursing home lounge singer he meets on the side of the road, to the young man who dreams of visiting France with whom he spends a night of passion, to a former teacher who now runs a used bookshop in a small town, to the old shopkeeper who is his host for a botched tryst, each and every person who crosses his path has a story to tell, each fascinating in their own way.

Reybaud plays his cards close to the vest, offering very few answers but so many fascinating questions. Each character feels like a fully developed person, even if we barely get to know them. As Paul uses Grindr to pursue Pierre across France, we learn very little about their relationship, but in the end its not the past that matters, it's the present. Through his phone and the people he meets, Pierre lives solidly in the present, taking each moment as it comes. 4 Days in France is a fascinating meditation on the interconnectivity of our lives, how social technology has the power to both increase and decrease the space between people. Pierre is living in the moment, but how much does he actually connect with it, and with the people around him? Tellingly, he manages to leave something behind in the hearts and minds of each person he encounters, and while Reybaud never tells their stories, we can't help but feel that these are people worth knowing more about.

Life is a series of encounters, as we enter and exit from stories we're barely even aware of. 4 Days in France allows us to peek into those lives, if only for a moment, to tag along on a kind of spiritual journey that meditates on sex, love, friendship, and the mysterious vastness of life. It's the kind of film that has the power to change one's perception of the world, and we leave keenly aware of how our presence reverberates through the world around us. That's the hallmark of a truly great film, opening our eyes to a world of infinite possibility at the crossroads where technology and human interaction meet. It manages to feel both strikingly modern and hauntingly timeless, a poignant, self-aware, and sometimes deeply funny exploration of the folly, the eccentricity, and the profound beauty of the human journey.

GRADE - ★★★½ (out of four)

4 DAYS IN FRANCE | Directed by Jérôme Reybaud | Stars Pascal Cervo, Arthur Igual, Fabienne Babe, Nathalie Richard, Laetitia Dosch, Marie-France, Liliane Montevecchi, Florence Giorgetti | Not Rated | In French w/English subtitles | Available on Blu-Ray and DVD Dec. 19 from the Cinema Guild.

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