Written and directed by Jérôme Bonnell, co-starring Emmanuelle Devos
Rectangle Productions, 2013
Screened at Chicago International Film Festival, October 12 and 14 as part of the Main Competition
Director Jérôme Bonnell received the Silver Hugo for Best Director at the festival
Screened at Washington West Film Festival in October 2013 and won the 2013 Best Narrative Feature Award
Opened the IFI (Irish Film Institute) French Fest on November 20, 2013 in Dublin
Director Jérôme Bonnell and Emmanuelle Devos attended the screening and participated in a Q&A session afterwards
Opened in the US March 21, 2014
From the Tribeca Talks interview with Emmanuelle Devos:
Q: Can you speak a little bit about how it was to work alongside Gabriel Byrne?
ED: It was interesting. He had an approach to the part where he lived it all the time, and he was suffering a lot. He said that he can’t imagine anybody else playing that part but him.
A day. A train. Two strangers.
Exchanged glances, accelerated heartbeats.
Watching her leave, losing her forever or allowing himself a moment of adventure?
And what if Alix’s life was turned upside down? –Rectangle Productions
Alix and Doug were not supposed to meet, but they did. Alix was on a train bound for Paris where she was going to audition for a film, having just left Calais where she had performed in an Ibsen play. Doug, a literature professor, had left England for Paris, where he was to attend the funeral of a dear friend. They were not supposed to meet and yet they did. They did because Alix, whose relationship with her boyfriend was at a crossroads, fancied this handsome serious-looking gentleman on the Paris-bound train. They did because Doug, although not in the mood for love, quickly fell for her. They were not supposed to meet but their brief encounter would prove to be overwhelming. –Guy Bellinger
More promotional stills are available in the Gallery.
Doug: Today’s a painful day. I’m not very good at pain.
Alix: Who is?
Douglas: Actress! You’re an actress. You see, now I don’t know whether you’re telling lies or telling the truth.
Alix: I could say the same thing to you.
Douglas: No, I say it because you’re an actress.
Alix: I said it because you’re a man.
Douglas: Ah! Touché.
Alix: Answer a cliché with a cliché.
Douglas: Why did you follow me?
Alix: Because you seemed sad. Because I wanted to.
Douglas: Really? Is that all?
Alix: I didn’t follow you. I went and found you. It’s very different.
Douglas: What are you afraid of?
Alix: To lack courage. To lack serenity.
Douglas: Nobody expects you to have serenity. And as for not having what it takes, I know that you have more than enough. You’ll be happy.
Douglas (to Alix): Are you going to turn into a pumpkin?
251 Screencaps from the DVD are available in the Gallery.
From the Tribeca Film Festival screening of the film:
As the film goes on, it’s one joy and folly after another, as Alix sorts out her demons — familial, professional, and otherwise — on the streets of Paris, while never losing the thought of this one strangely awesome guy who’s been thrust into her life.
Meanwhile, Bonnell sprinkles the whole thing with generous helpings of vibrant color, classical music, absurdly funny coincidences and mistakes (and a strong narrative line that never lets us forget why we walked in the door). Devos and Byrne are both wonderful. They’re constantly outdoing one another with moments of intensity, longing and loss — but at the same time, they’re a perfect complement.
Granted, Sigh revisits the familiar terrain of Brief Encounter and other short but sweet cinematic trysts. However, Bonnel’s mostly French language film is unusually mature, sophisticated, and frankly kind of hot, in a middle aged way. The on-screen chemistry between co-leads Emmanuelle Devos and Gabriel Byrne is quite powerful. Devos shows considerable flexibility, segueing from Alix’s scatter-brained rushing about to her massively smoldering scenes with Byrne. For his part, the Irish actor radiates tragic dignity as her temporary lover.
From the general release of the film in the United States:
In ‘Just a Sigh,’ an Actress Follows an Intriguing Man
NYT Critics’ Pick
“Just a Sigh,” the fifth feature directed by Jérôme Bonnell (“The Queen of Clubs”), suggests a contemporary Gallic “Brief Encounter.” The movie is beautifully acted, and the chemistry between Ms. Devos, who is 49 (her character is 43), and Mr. Byrne, 63, is heated in a sadder-but-wiser, grown-up way. Ms. Devos, a mainstay of French cinema, suggests a younger Catherine Deneuve, with her lustrous hair framing a face that expresses determination and dignified willfulness…
You may complain that “Just a Sigh” is too episodic to cohere and that Alix’s eccentricities are plot mechanisms. But to me, this fateful day-in-the-life feels believable. Those expecting high drama may be disappointed. On its own modest terms, however, “Just a Sigh” is intimate and persuasive.
Strangers on a train, played to perfection by Emmanuelle Devos and Gabriel Byrne, are destined for a brief encounter, Parisian-style, in “Just a Sigh.” The blah title suggests bad middle-school poetry (the original French, “Le Temps de l’aventure,” at least has energy), but the film is a bracingly romantic drama that’s alive with a mature sense of passion and mystery…
Setting the story on the first day of summer, writer-director Jérôme Bonnell captures the bright delicacy and the melancholy of the sudden connection. He takes Alix in unpredictable directions, notably in a dark-comic confrontation with her condescending sister. The bursts of Vivaldi, Verdi and Mozart on the score feel self-conscious and yet make sense, much like the intensely felt romance.
Artwork by Magalie
It’s on the train, however, where she sees Doug, a handsome traveler headed into the City Of Lights in a button-down with an open collar. His eyes are windows spattered with rain, and with the face of Gabriel Byrne, it’s impossible to avoid that this is one handsome devil just sitting by his lonesome. The clicking of the train wheels against the track provide the only soundtrack as these two lone riders exchange glances. Her face reads curiosity, and his reads sadness; he is drawn inward, but she might as well be leaning forward in her seat.
As the forlorn Brit lover, Byrne delivers a scaled-down and soft-spoken performance, his character retreating into the background the more Alix’s quandary takes center stage. But the two ultimately evolve into a convincing fly-by-night couple, with Devos effectively delivering all the English dialogues and Byrne playing the compassionate listener with rigor and elegance.
Le temps de l’aventure is primarily a duet, with two gifted and sensitive actors in the lead roles. It was choreographed and conducted, as Gabriel Byrne describes it, by an imaginative and very focused writer/director. The cast, the director, and the film deserve their own review. Here I will focus on one player and one character in this touching and tragic romantic fantasy that broke my heart over and over again…
I am not suggesting that Mr. Byrne portrayed himself in this film. He is an actor. He plays characters written by others. It can be noted, however, that, despite his desire for privacy in his personal life, he seems to be drawn to roles that require him to be self-revelatory, that connect with him on a personal level. This is ironic, perhaps, but the impulse is our gain.
Guest Review: Just A Sigh, by Magalie
But time passes, minutes tick away, tick, tock, the countdown has begun. The train to Calais for Alix is at 6:03 PM. The faces become tense, there is a glimmer of anxiety in the eyes, the hearts start to thump. The spirit of the Fête de la Musique filling the streets will not succeed in easing the situation. Nothing will. The eyes of the two lovers swing from the clock to each other.
Artwork by Magalie
Available at Amazon.fr; in English and French.
Gabriel Byrne is interviewed as part of the Special Features.
Additional screencaps from the Gabriel Byrne DVD interview are available in the Gallery.
From the Tribeca Talks interview with director Jérôme Bonnell:
Q: Though it certainly isn’t a silent film, dialogue is sparse throughout; it is more about the emotions and the expressions that the characters build upon scene after scene. Why did you decide to focus the story on the passions, the furtive looks, and the mysteries behind the two characters – were you intentionally leaving things unsaid?
JB: Because I believe that cinema is the ideal means to express things that we feel with our guts but cannot explain. And with these specific actors that I worked with, it was marvelous because they were perfectly suited to pull this off. [A few seconds of silence pass by until Bonnell speaks again.] I think I chose to become a filmmaker specifically for this.
Q: There is quite a bit of classical music in the film. What were you trying to emphasize or have the audience focus on when using such works?
JB: Yes, actually it was Vivaldi and Verdi. Their music has such a timeless and universal character to it that it allows the story to become larger than what it could seem to be. It highlights, or underscores, the fact that the story is almost beyond time; it’s timeless.
Included in the soundtrack for the film:
Vivaldi: Concerto for violin in D Major RV 210 Largo
Verdi: Quattro Pezzi Sacri
Thanks to Magalie for sharing her review and her artwork! heart