À Tout de Suite
2004, NR, 85 min. Directed by Benoît Jacquot. Starring Isild Le Besco, Ouassini Embarek, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Laurence Cordier.
REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., Sept. 23, 2005
Its title translates as "Right Now" – and this is precisely the attitude the film’s heroine (Le Besco) adopts toward life and love, although the setting is 1975, and Jacquot’s technique hearkens back toward the French New Wave. Shot in jittery black-and-white 16mm, the film’s on-the-fly aesthetic captures the shiftlessness of bourgeois youth, when anything is possible and accepting a drink from the wrong stranger (or is it the right one?) can transform a person from a bored art student skipping class to an international fugitive. Eager to evade a would-be suitor, Lili (we rarely hear her name, but the press kit provides it) ducks into a nightclub and meets Bada (Embarek), a twentysomething Moroccan who flashes cash – from "real estate" – and slow-dances her to the theme from Mahogany. She doesn’t press for details, and when Bada calls up looking for a place to crash, she takes him in – along with the one surviving accomplice from the heist he’s just pulled. The gang picks up an additional "bandette" (Cordier) and hits the road, sneaking from Spain to Morocco to Greece with bank notes stuffed in their clothes. Yet the film isn’t exactly a thriller, despite a couple of curveballs in the story; rather, Jacquot studies Lili as the emotional center of a moral drama about desire, abandonment, grief, and the turning points in a person’s life. As such it’s fascinating stuff. Jacquot’s camera loves Le Besco – her swishy hair, the Botticelli features broken up by her rabbity smile – and lingers on her with tangible affection, capturing her transformation from a thrill-seeking daddy’s girl to an older and wiser (but still yearning) young woman confronted with the realities of survival. In one lovely, economical scene, Lili lures Bada from their hideout for a trip to the movies. Giddily, she snuggles her dangerous and swarthy lover (her father would not approve) while the film-within-the-film flickers; visibly racked with guilt and fear, he excuses himself to throw up. The origins are literary – the movie is adapted from the memoir When I Was 19 by Elisabeth Fanger – but Jacquot is a consummately cinematic storyteller, a seeming tautology. In other words, he doesn’t pile on the voiceover and the exposition but jumps right in, trusting the viewer to ride along with the film’s energetic, nimble motion. In the first act his technique mirrors Lili’s recklessness, and as she becomes increasingly mired in desperation, Jacquot slows the pace down, searching Le Besco’s iconic face as Lili’s plight registers fully. This is a director in command of his craft and his material, and the result is absorbing.