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Right Now

Interrupting a recent run of costume pieces to return closer to a contemporary setting, Benoit Jacquot conjures a rich evocation of the 1970s in his strikingly crafted but rather empty drama "Right Now." While it's quite watchable, this amour fou odyssey keeps its passion on ice, and is far too self-consciously enamored of its very studied aesthetic.

Cast:
With: Isild Le Besco, Ouassini Embarek, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Laurence Cordier, Fotini Kodoukaki, Leonor Graser, Emmanuelle Bercot, Odile Vuillemin, Catherine Davenier, Nicolas Pignon, David Ayala, Olivier Augrond, Sabri Lahmer.

Interrupting a recent run of costume pieces to return closer to a contemporary setting, Benoit Jacquot conjures a rich evocation of the 1970s in his strikingly crafted but rather empty drama “Right Now.” While it’s quite watchable, this amour fou odyssey keeps its passion on ice, and is far too self-consciously enamored of its very studied aesthetic to be fully involving on a dramatic or emotional level. But the film’s moody atmosphere, keen sense of place and gorgeous B&W visuals should ensure a spot in roundups of new French features over the coming year.

One of the chief limitations of this coolly stylish exercise is a distancing central performance from Isild Le Besco, who appears to have distilled the essence of every Gallic screen gamine into a single unmodulated Jane Birkin-esque pout, coupled with dialogue delivered in a monotone hushed whimper. Never given a name in the film, Le Besco plays a middle class Paris art school student living with her well-heeled parents. She hooks up in a bar one night with a young French-Moroccan (Ouassini Embarek) who reveals little about himself.

Soon after they sleep together for the first time, the girl gets a farewell phone call from her new flame during a bank robbery in which one of his accomplices has been shot and a cashier killed. She watches the hostage drama play out on TV news, and when he calls again after making his getaway, the girl unquestioningly hides out her lover and his surviving accomplice (Nicolas Duvauchelle) in her house for the night. Next morning, the accomplice’s girlfriend (Laurence Cordier) arrives with a car, and the two couples — all nameless — take flight.

Disturbed by his role in the killings, the girl’s lover draws closer to her and she shuts out any sense of danger or reason to blindly invest everything in him. She has very little connection with the other female group member despite their shared bourgeois background and even less with the hotheaded accomplice. Traveling to Spain and then Morocco, the quartet is plagued by increasing tensions as the stolen banknotes prove difficult to pass off. They head to Greece, where passport control causes even more anxiety, leading to a separation that leaves the girl in a state of near-catatonic limbo.

Jacquot’s idea of exploring how one brief, intense experience can radically alter a person and resonate far into their future is by no means new and the director casually acknowledges the film’s kinship with any number of outlaw-lover road movies. But the approach is far more interior here than in most such dramas, focusing largely on what’s inside the head of the main character. This is undermined, however, by Le Besco’s blank performance, by an airily movie-ish screenplay too full of shortcuts and convenient encounters and by a strong feeling of deja vu in a film that rarely leaves any doubt as to where it’s going.

Chief point of interest remains Caroline Champetier’s somberly textured, often grainy B&W lensing, coupled with Luc Barnier’s silky-smooth editing and arresting use of a Pink Floyd instrumental piece to make the film a more rewarding sensory experience than an emotional one.

Right Now

Un Certain Regard / France

Production: A Pyramide Distribution release of a Natan Prods., Arte France Cinema production with participation of CineCinema, CNC. (International sales: Flach Pyramide Intl., Paris.) Produced by Georges Benayoun, Raoul Saada. Executive producer, Francoise Guglielmi. Directed, written by Benoit Jacquot, based on a story "lived by" Elisabeth Fanger.

Crew: Camera (B&W), Caroline Champetier; editor, Luc Barnier; production/costume designer, Antoine Platteau; sound (Dolby Digital), Michel Vionnet; assistant director, Antoine Santana; casting, Frederique Moidon. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard), May 14, 2004. Running time: 95 MIN.

With: With: Isild Le Besco, Ouassini Embarek, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Laurence Cordier, Fotini Kodoukaki, Leonor Graser, Emmanuelle Bercot, Odile Vuillemin, Catherine Davenier, Nicolas Pignon, David Ayala, Olivier Augrond, Sabri Lahmer.

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