Les passagers de la nuit (Berlinale review)

Les passagers de la nuit (Berlinale review)

Paris, 1981. François Mitterrand has just won the presidency. People are on the streets. But Élisabeth (Charlotte Gainsbourg) struggles to share the general mood of optimism. Her marriage is coming to an end and she will now have to support her family. She is distraught, and her father and teenage children are worried that her tears simply will not dry. She hasn’t worked for a long long time and it would be hard for her to return to the market with no qualification. She fails on her first attempt and gets fired the first day. But then she sends a letter to the host of her favourite radio programme, that has the name of the film. She gets a job there, answering phone calls of sleepless people listening to other’s stories. After an interview of one young girl at the studio, when she realizes that she has nothing to go, Élisabeth quickly offers her to move in at a spare room she has.

Mikhaël Hers screenplay and direction transfers us to the simpler times of the 80s, when radio is still big and inviting a homeless girl to your house seemed not that far-fetched, but rather reasonable. Hers sensitive eye Élisabeth and her family, with their problems and love lives is well meaning and sweet. Gainsbourg leads a cast that gives interesting and even moving performances. What for the mother is a mid-life crisis that she comes stronger from, for her teenage kids is a coming of out story that is happening in the same time and place.

The film is full of nostalgia of simpler times: the radio, the movie theater that the teens sneak in, the spontaneous meetings of potential love interests. Really simple things that are not the same as 40 years ago. It might be shocking but 1981 was 40 plus years ago and even if it seems more familiar and modern that films from the 60’s, films of this decade at some point will be considered period films as well.

In this timeline of the family lives, the film brings to mind “L’ Avenir” from Mia Hansen-Løve that was also in competition in Berlinale in 2016. Les passagers de la nuit though, doesn’t succeed in that extent to portrait the family dynamics and their evolution over time that well, staying in it’s good intentions and being an overall not memorable film.

Grade 2/5

by Mikhaël Hers
Screenplay: Mikhaël Hers, Maud Ameline, Mariette Désert
with Charlotte Gainsbourg, Quito Rayon-Richter, Noée Abita, Megan Northam, Thibault Vinçon
Country: France Year: 2022
Runtime: 111’

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