Just a Sigh (2013)
Editor’s Notes: Just a Sigh opens in limited release tomorrow, March 21st.
Romantic attraction is a powerful feeling, a sensation that can simmer softly in the background or swell to a crescendo of burning passion. It triggers primordial reactions that can’t always be controlled, shaping futures, tearing lives apart, providing instant gratification and fuelling unfulfilled longing. Romantic attraction is capable of many different things but it always has an impact. It’s such a shame then that Jérôme Bonnell’s film fails to elicit much of anything. Like a mass produced car assembled by a robot, all the parts are in place but they’ve been put together without care and none of them are unique.
Like a mass produced car assembled by a robot, all the parts are in place but they’ve been put together without care and none of them are unique.
A series of clichés form the solid core of this Paris set romance. Jobbing actress Alix (Emmanuelle Devos) is returning to Paris briefly to pass on momentous news. Her life at a crossroad, she meets Gabriel Byrne’s withdrawn Doug on the train from Calais. After a long journey spent staring at each other, the chance to make contact is ruined when Doug’s request for directions is answered by another passenger unwittingly blundering in on their slow dance.
The moment seemingly lost, Alix is encouraged to try again when relationship and work frustrations get the better of her. An awkward reconnection at a funeral opens the door to new possibilities for them both as they spend the day together in the French capital, unable to stay away from each other for too long until tough decisions have to be taken.
The shining star is Devos. She brings likable immaturity to Alix, a woman who has not entirely grown up and still seeks hand outs from her sister to get by. She makes and breaks engagements with her mother and doggedly pursues Doug well beyond the point of embarrassment. Her sparky presence lifts the story, bringing energy to a character mired by doubt and indecision.
Sadly, she is the only real high point. Try as she might to inject life into proceedings, Just a Sigh is marred by too many weaknesses. While Devos attempts to break free from the heavy constraints weighing the film down, Byrne recognises a losing battle and doesn’t even try. His grief stricken literature professor is laconic to the point of disinterest. He can barely find any inflection as overwritten lines that sound as if they have tumbled straight out of a discount book of cod philosophy quotes launch forth. Conversation is used sparingly which only goes to highlight just how ponderous it is when the leads do attempt to discuss anything.
While Devos attempts to break free from the heavy constraints weighing the film down, Byrne recognises a losing battle and doesn’t even try.
As the clichés pile up without any real sense of unquenchable desire or mischievous fun, Alix’s pursuit of Doug around the commemoration of his friend’s death starts to become a little off-putting. Handled with a lighter touch, it might have worked, but she instead comes across as a self-conscious stalker. Following him first to the funeral, then a nearby bistro, then a fruit stall and finally his hotel, it begins to look as if there are no lengths she won’t go to. Given Alix has no idea who has died or why Doug seems so distraught, it comes across as strikingly insensitive.
In an attempt to rescue the flagging day, Bonnell turns to a selection of tried and tested techniques, all of which fail. The most egregious is the classical score that relies on some mainstream Vivaldi to add depth. He even throws in a moment of fraught family drama to try and create some character for his film as Alix rows with her sister over their respective approaches to life, a fight that wouldn’t look out of place in an afternoon soap.
He may misuse a series of techniques common in romantic dramas to try and forge a unique identity for his film, but even if Bonnell had applied them more effectively, Just a Sigh would still fall short. Ultimately, Alix, Doug and the surrounding characters don’t feel real. Where events go unexplained and personality traits unexplored, it feels more like they didn’t exist in the first place. These are not real people walking around on screen. They’re so obviously characters in a fictional story that it breaks the illusion destroying any attempt to provoke genuine reactions to the onscreen events.
By the time the ending draws near, it has all become something of a slog. No one element is terrible but with the exception of Devos, nothing stands out either. The complete package may try hard but there is not enough quality to craft a decent film.
[notification type=”star”]40/100 ~ BAD. Just a Sigh is a mishandled collection of clichés come together to create a film that lives up to its English title. In the end, a sigh is about all it can elicit.[/notification]