“Passengers of the Night” illuminates France in the 1980s

Without a trace of nostalgia, filmmaker Mikhaël Hers brings to life the Paris of François Mitterrand’s first seven years between 1981 and 1988, drawing the impressionistic portrait of a mother, her two teenagers and a young homeless man. “Passengers of the Night” hugs you like a caress.

The scene takes place on the evening of May 10, 1981, when François Mitterrand was elected. While cheering reigns in the streets of the capital, Elisabeth (Charlotte Gainsbourg) mourns the loss of her husband. Alone with her two teenagers, Matthias and Judith, she searches for a job and ends up getting a job as a switchboard operator for France Inter’s night show hosted by her idol, Vanda Dorval (Emmanuelle Béart).

There they cross paths with a young homeless man named Talulah, whom she takes under her wing and places in a maid’s room above her apartment.

>> To see: the trailer for the film “Passengers of the Night”

A tactile and sensitive atmosphere

A young provincial who discovers a benevolent family. A teenager waking up with his first feelings of love and writing. A girl involved in protest movements. A shy mother finding her place in the world. After “This Feeling of Summer” (2015) and “Amanda” (2018), two works traversed by the weight of death, Mikhaël Hers signs with “Passengers of the Night” the chronicle of a group of characters who are torn by vacillating destinies joined during François Mitterrand’s first seven-year tenure.

Divided into three periods separated by clear ellipses, 1981, 1984 and 1988, the film deviates from both the generational narrative and the political streak to join a more intimate dimension, digging into the paths of its characters, whose changes ahead giving in to everything to see and feel the passage of time and the little grief we make for our old “me”. In his reconstruction of time, which mixes fictional scenes and archive images, the filmmaker seeks melancholy rather than nostalgia, allowing us to experience the very carnal, tactile, sensitive atmosphere of a past decade, as in the present.

an impressionist art

With the referential guidance of Jacques Rivette, actress Pascale Ogier, who died aged 25, and Eric Rohmer’s Nights of the Full Moon, through small touches, Passengers of the Night slowly pours in, gradually weaving the deep bonds that bind the various Characters unite and bring together, comfort, support. The Impressionist artistry of Mikhaël Hers is fully effective here, his story being built out of the blue from seemingly disparate points of color that end up forming a rich, expansive and stunning portrait.

One might find that shared dance scene in Joe Dassin’s “If You Would Not Exist” harmless, anecdotal, those moments when Charlotte Gainsbourg surveys the city with discreet grace while smoking a cigarette on the windowsill. But it is precisely from these fragile, fleeting moments of infinite tenderness and gentleness that the film draws all of its uniqueness and strength.

And when Talulah says towards the end of the journey: “I often think back to the time together: “There will be what we were for others, simply we were there, there was something warm, eternal, and we were never the same again, this great strangers, fragments of us, these passengers of the night”, we feel a shudder all over our bodies, embraced by a strong emotion that does not let go of us long after the end of the film.

Rafael Wolf/aq

“Passengers of the Night” by Mikhaël Hers, with Charlotte Gainsbourg, Emmanuelle Béart, Noée Abita, Quito Rayon Richter.

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