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WAITING TO TAKE OFF

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Jean Reno and Juliette Binoche in Danièle Thompson's Jet Lag. Photo by Marion Stalens.
Modern chemistry is in the Air France in 'Jet Lag'

An effervescent import, Jet Lag could be called a "freedom film," not simply to appease American hegemonists who tried to rename french fries, but also because this French romantic comedy pits the urge for personal independence against the need to be connected. Unlike François Ozon, who made Swimming Pool in English, though setting it in France, director Danièle Thompson, who established her reputation in the '70s with screenplays for Cousin, Cousine and The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob, conducts her cinematic business en français. Most of Jet Lag takes place in the hub of France, or at least Air France - Paris' Charles de Gaulle Airport. The screenplay, which Thompson co-wrote with her son Christopher, is the story of strangers off a plane. It is Brief Encounter spiced with sprigs of parsley and cloves of garlic.

During a few hectic hours in which flights are delayed by strikes and bad weather, a man and a woman collide and coalesce. Rose is a beautician en route to a job in Acapulco and away from an abusive relationship. "I'm a sucker for bastards who hurt me," she admits. Named for German revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg, Rose is a disappointment to her professional parents, who would probably have preferred cosmology over cosmetology as their daughter's vocation. At the airport, she runs into Félix, a twice-divorced master chef on his reluctant way to a funeral in Munich. Although haggard and unkempt, Felix is fastidious about odors and not a natural match for Rose, who is a living depository of perfumes, eye liners, and lipsticks. Despite a few other minor parts, Jet Lag is essentially a two-character piece, and, confined to 24 hours in one location, it follows the concentrated formulas of Neoclassical French theater.

Jet Lag
(Décalage horaire)
Dir. Danièle Thompson; writ. Christopher Thompson, Danièle Thompson; feat. Juliette Binoche, Jean Reno, Sergi López, Scali Delpeyrat (R)
Rose and Félix converge in the kind of cute meeting more common in Hollywood conference rooms than Charles de Gaulle terminals. After inadvertently flushing her cell phone down the toilet, flustered Rose stops a nearby stranger, Félix, and asks to borrow his. When he sees that Rose plans to spend the night on a chair in the airport waiting lounge, Félix takes pity and offers her the extra bed in the hotel room that the airline provides until his flight can be rescheduled. "You can't stand people but can't stand being alone" is Rose's apt assessment of her benefactor. They are an odd couple, and, from midnight until morning, the two strangers interrogate, irritate, and charm each other. "If we don't get involved in other people's lives, we get very lonely," observes Rose, as explanation for why she is so inquisitive about Félix - and for why a viewer might want to sit in the dark prying into the lives of Rose and Félix. With Antoine Lavoisier, the French invented modern chemistry, but Juliette Binoche, as Rose, and Jean Reno, as Félix, do their best to reinvent it here.

In a voiceover before the film's credits, Rose, whose most vivid childhood memory is of playing hooky to go see Roman Holiday, fantasizes about "a whole day when my life would be like an American movie." Although it could be described as When Harry Met Sally with subtitles (the famous delicatessen orgasm is transposed to a hotel kitchen), Jet Lag self-consciously offers itself to French audiences as the real thing, an alternative to the Coca-Colonization of their authentic culture. Félix, who watches Larry King on his hotel TV, peppers his conversation with English phrases, and used to cook in New York, has succumbed further to the forces of globalization by running the frozen food division of an international conglomerate. "I can't get out of this damned country," he complains when the plane to Munich gets stuck in France. But by the final sequence of Jet Lag, Félix taxis into Paris to make his peace with his native land, and Rose abandons plans for Mexico. "So what if life is not a Hollywood movie with a happy ending?" asks Félix. Thompson answers by providing a happy ending to her French movie. It is enough to make Charles de Gaulle, the nationalist as well as the airport, proud. •


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