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Review: ‘Just A Sigh’ Starring Gabriel Byrne A Minor Key, Not Quite Magnetic Romance

Review: 'Just A Sigh' Starring Gabriel Byrne A Minor Key, Not Quite Magnetic Romance

Some of us are floating in the
water, waiting for that big wave that we can ride, one that will let us surf to
another place where the water’s warmer, less choppy, and in some cases, soaked
with less tourist piss (which may or may not be part of the metaphor). One of
these people is Alix (Emmanuelle Devos) of “Just a Sigh,” a working actress
still stuck in a holding pattern. Now in her forties, she clutches her cellphone, praying for a call from a sometime-boyfriend. What we learn of this man
suggests whatever feelings that exist may not be mutual, and while Alix tells a
girlfriend that she’s going to visit him, suggesting that she may try to
establish their relationship face-to-face, the defensive way that Alix
expresses herself suggests she’s tried this before.

With time off because of a power
failure at the theater, Alix leaves for Paris to see her would-be beau and
visit her mother. It’s on the train, however, where she sees Doug, a
handsome traveler headed into the City Of Lights in a button-down with an open
collar. His eyes are windows spattered with rain, and with the face of Gabriel
, it’s impossible to avoid that this is one handsome devil just sitting by
his lonesome. The clicking of the train wheels against the track provide the
only soundtrack as these two lone riders exchange glances. Her face reads
curiosity, and his reads sadness; he is drawn inward, but she might as well be
leaning forward in her seat.

Arriving in Paris she loses
track of him, but soon takes stock of her life: she’s in Paris to see very
judgmental family members and take another blind shot at a boyfriend, with
minimal funds in her account. Might as well get on that wave right now and
surf towards her handsome stranger. By roaming the city and ducking into a
massive funeral, she’s actively trying to assimilate into a group of related
people to relieve her loneliness. But lo and behold, there he is, mourning the
death of a friend. Like a lovesick little girl, Alix feigns knowledge of the
deceased as an attempt to pursue her quiet stranger. Devos’ eyes are wide-set
and hypnotic: few actresses are as compelling while staring intently as she is.

Thanks to the assistance of a
chatty funeral-goer who spills his emotions to Alix, she corners Doug and the two of them end up spending the day together. His sentiments, in
English, reflect a caged heart, a reluctance to open up to a stranger in a
strange land. Alix is a bit more dogged, suggesting to him he’s got magnetism
inside of him that she could never possibly resist. There is a connection being
made, and over the course of a couple of days, they connect and reconnect, her
natural flakiness labeling her as someone who has no idea how to treat a
godsend of a partner. Success isn’t enough for some people: sometimes the
craving for chaos can genuinely feed the soul.

“Just a Sigh” works as a
minor-key travelogue more than a romance – a criticism hailed at some
contemporary films about male characters similar to Alix (transient screw-ups) is
that they’re matched with unrealistically ideal pairings, in that they have
little obvious shortcomings, and convenient draws. What’s intriguing about this
setup is that Alix sees Doug not only as a plausible pairing, but also a
life-raft: after all, she is broke, and hungry for a partner that treats her
with respect. The problem is that he seems too much like an ideal salve for her
wounds: he speaks of the end of his last relationship in a way that makes him
seem mysterious and alluring, not tragic or flawed. And he seems to have no
real thoughts about Alix beyond their sexual chemistry; the two of them
collapsing into each other seems more like a genuine rebound for her, an
expression of mourning and grief for him.

It feels as if the model for this
film is something like “Before Sunrise,” with this portrait of two lovers in
transit, crashing against each other. Unlike that film, which spawned two
sequels, it feels as if the audience isn’t eager to revisit this dynamic
anytime soon, although mostly that comes from this being Alix’s movie.
Unfortunately, the trappings of her old life (the theater, the boyfriend, the
pushy New Age sister) threaten to intrude on her excursion in a way a bad
subplot vows to intrude upon a good story. Devos keeps her character’s
unreliability and self-disappointment relatable, and falling backwards into a
new lover is something that Devos captures beautifully with her uncertain
facial expressions and hungry eyes. As a short, this material would be
magnetic, but stretched to feature-length, it’s merely “Just a Sigh.” [B-]

This is a reprint of our review from the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival.

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