In honor of the new Movies Issue, we’re writing about our favorite foreign films; my choice: À Tout de Suite (2005), written and directed by Benoît Jacquot.
Conceptually, À Tout de Suite (“Right Now”), based on a memoir by Elisabeth Fanger, sounds almost willfully cookie-cutter. A black and white homage to New Wave, set in 1975, about a bored rich girl who falls for a dreamy young criminal, the film initially seduces us with its familiarity. Nineteen-year-old art student Lili—a mesmerizing Isild Le Besco—lives in bourgeois Parisian splendor with her father and sister; customarily for an ingénue facing a perilous plot, the mother is absent. Lili’s languid voiceover reveals that she’s telling us her story in flashback, while a gleam in her eye, equal parts insouciance and belligerence, broadcasts her readiness for reckless adventure.
It soon arrives: when a man in a café—a gangster, as established by his sharp suit and claim to work in “things, like real estate”—invites Lili and her friend to a nightclub, Lili spies her destiny across the dance floor. Bada (Ouassini Embarek) is in his early twenties, of Moroccan descent, also a gangster, and even prettier than Lili herself. In other words, he might as well have stepped straight from the pages of the Irresistible Boys for Rebellious Middle-Class Girls catalogue. Lili takes him home, the next day he formalizes their relationship with an expensive bracelet paid for with some obviously ill gotten gains, and then the inevitable occurs: he calls her from the middle a botched bank robbery. Hostages have been taken, people have been killed. Will Lili harbor Bada before going on the run with him? Like you needed to ask.
So far, so Breathless. But Lili is less passively innocent than Jean Seberg’s Patricia—from the start, Lili is the driving force in her relationship, Bada quietly acquiescing as one imagines he quietly acquiesced to a life of crime—and Le Besco’s remarkable face, which expresses multitudes in one pouting glance, is considerably more compelling than Seberg’s perfect but blank beauty.
Indeed, it becomes clear that Jacquot is interested in creating something other than a simple ode to Godard. As the young lovers go on the lam with another couple, first to Spain, then to Morocco, then Greece, the viewer is reminded how powerful mere images can be, especially in our over-analyzed, excessively verbal, information-overloaded culture. Words are used sparingly, and the action is slow, too slow for the film to even qualify as a thriller. But the stunningly rendered scenes and lingering hand-held camera shots of Lili convey a rare eloquence and emotional depth. Instead of wringing out every last message with dialogue and dictating our reactions with music signaling when to be SAD or HAPPY or IN SUSPENSE, À Tout de Suite boldly credits the audience with the intelligence to form our own interpretations and project our own subjectivity onto the characters and their predicament—even while hinting that our heroine’s romantic fate won’t diverge too far from her celluloid predecessor Patricia’s. Still, our ultimate reward is seeing that, when all is said and done, Lili wouldn’t take a second of it back.