Film Review – Just a Sigh
Just a Sigh
Loneliness, making connections, and beautiful visuals make Just a Sigh an enjoyable meditation. The two-random-people-meeting-and-forming-a-connection is nothing new; it is a favorite trope of romance novels and there are many great films that have taken this to new levels, the Before Sunrise trilogy being one of the most recent examples. While Just a Sigh never reaches that level, it does understand the most important lesson to make this work: to have characters that we can connect with.
Alix Aubane (Emmanuelle Devos) is a forty-year-old, still-struggling actress, having a bad day, late for an audition in Paris. The play she is in, isn’t paying her on time and she can’t get ahold of her longtime boyfriend. On her way to Paris, she sees another passenger on the train, Doug (Gabriel Byrne), who seems to being having a bad day, as well. The looks that are exchanged between these two—you know immediately that they are attracted, but more taking comfort in each other. Each sees the inner sadness that the other has in that moment, and just seeing the other person makes things easier for them.
Alix though is our center, we follow her as she is trying to manage her day, seeing the stresses build in her. She never collapses or becomes despondent, but we sense she is looking for some kind of release. Watching her just go about her day was intriguing; the camera never loses her—we may switch from an overhead shot to right behind her to a profile, but it never feels jumpy, we are keeping her close. Staying with her, we see her emotions in her face, in the way she moves, the looks in her eyes; we see so much without much going on.
But to counter her feelings, she seeks out Doug, having heard where he was going to be. Their initial reactions are quite lovely. While surprised, Doug does see very clearly why she would be there and he, in turn, having his own tragedy that day, is seeking a release, which they find in each others simple presence. Their moments of quietly looking at each other expressed a lot; Doug is more the reactor to Alix, and yet we know enough to make his reasons for seeking comfort in Alix plausible even if we are less invested in him. The moments build around them with even some humor mixed in, with a friend of Doug getting in the way of the two, which gives the moment when they do come together, feel earned.
While I understood why they wanted each other in that moment, it was hard to be invested in them in the long run. As more details are unveiled about Alix’s situation, the stakes that should have been higher, felt less to me. There was already enough struggle for her that these added issues didn’t help and took time away from building her and Doug’s relationship. The more time they then spend with each other later, feels rushed, and we go to the montage moment and it becomes harder to give their relationship the full weight the movie thinks it is giving them. And yet, when we come to the final moment, it pulls things back just enough to give a sense of optimism, even if there is still no clear answer for what will happen to the two of them.
What the couple was may not have entirely flowed, but director Jérôme Bonnell‘s and his crews’ crafting of the film was near flawless. The camera work, as mentioned, was always central to events, keeping the perfect distance to our characters, giving us closeups when the emotion called for it, or taking in more of the city of Paris with all its bustling life, be it helping these two be alive or closing in on them. The light work was also impressive, especially the use of sun light.The sun is ever present here, but muted, shining on our couple, but never overwhelming them. It helped create a sense of while things are not perfect, everything is not dark and grim, and was the perfect companion piece to these two. If there was one weakness in the craft, it was in the music. A church choir would appear randomly, and instead of helping the moment, it usually was distracting and never created the moment that the film seemed to think it was.
The journey was interesting, with a few hiccups, and the ending somewhat in flux, but overall a satisfying experience. Bonnell’s creation of the world and keeping us invested was great throughout the film. This could not have happened without the great work of Emmanuelle Devos. Gabriel Byrne was very good, but this is her film. The camera never leaves her and she keeps us involved even when events are not as strong. She at least sells what she is doing. The latter half lost some of the momentum, but the journey was still satisfying simply in seeing these characters. In a sense, he did something most directors can only dream of—he left me wanting more.