RELEASE DATE: August 4, 2017
DIRECTOR: Jérôme Reybaud
MPAA RATING: NR
RUNTIME: 142 minutes
Less a traditional narrative movie and more of a fictionalized travelogue, 4 Days in France follows Pierre (Pascal Cervo), a metropolitan, openly gay Parisian man who makes the spontaneous decision to leave his home and wander through the country, using Grindr to make connections and find a place to sleep.
He gets in his car, and he drives. Whatever happens will happen. Of course, when one makes such a drastic decision, there are consequences. Here, they involve Pierre’s mystified boyfriend Paul (Arthur Igual), who tries, somewhat chaotically, to figure out exactly where his partner is going.
This is a film about the journey, because there is no set destination. Writer/director Jérôme Reybaud has crafted an airily unrestrained story, which moves like loose clouds passing through a clear sky. Clocking in at just under two-and-a-half hours, 4 Days in France feels quicker than many movies running at a fraction of that time because its characters are interesting and its contemplations – funny, bizarre and thoughtful – create a well-worn, enveloping atmosphere. A small army of supporting parts each make their own marks. To name a few, there’s a closeted businessman, a petty thief, and a homophobic woman in the countryside who insists that Pierre’s sexual orientation is a pollutant to the local environment.
Despite its knowledge that the most interesting thing about traveling is often the people one encounters, 4 Days in France is a gorgeously shot film. It treats the smallest of cramped rooms with the same artistic bent as it does breathtaking vistas taking place in wide, empty valleys. Reybaud has made something bigger than a talky road picture, but steers clear of concocting a coherent, philosophical worldview.
Consequently, in the quest to make Pierre something of a blank slate – a lens for the audience to view the world through – there is the strong feeling that the film is too slight for its endeavors. Aside from the notion of Paul trying to find him, there’s no real, overriding narrative conflict.
The script lives off singular interactions, meandering conversations and long stretches of observational space, such as a scene where Pierre wanders by the open windows of a nursing home commons room, as the woman he just offered a ride to entertains the residents, in a setlist that has includes a barebones Kylie Minogue cover.
A rigorous aversion to conventional plotting can make for a periodically tough sit, especially in a lumbering middle 45 minutes. But if 4 Days in France is short on events, it’s never devoid of ideas. Reybaud is always prepared for a creative new way to depict the journey, be it eclectic musical underscoring, the recitation of various sonnets and poems, or the natural beauty of the diverse scenery.
Informal to the point of defiance, the movie carries the kind of quick lyricism of the poems it showcases. One is reminded of a line by a writer whose work is featured, Arthur Rimbaud, (“The wind brings sounds, the town is near / and carries scents of vineyards and beer”) as the prattling series of locales and locals dot the mirroring journeys of Pierre and Paul. It would be easy for the film to transform into some kind of sermonizing device. Perhaps a lecture about the prevalence of hookup apps like Grindr. Or the desire for independence and clarity in an over-cluttered modern life.
Yet Reybaud is uninterested in such unambiguity. Why, of course, would you want to go there, when nature is so wonderful in its own right and we are watching an adventure so quietly monumental? In all the mess that could have been, or currently is, a witty and gentle experiment like this one has a certain kind of melodious remedy.