Opening scene succinctly establishes Akerman’s light, almost playful tone, and the contrasting sadness of the title character, 15-year-old Michelle (Circe). Having decided to quit school, the girl sits at a train station, idly forging absentee notes, with excuses ranging from an illness in the family to her own death.
She goes to the movies and succumbs with no qualms, but with no particular enthusiasm, to the amorous advances of Parisian army deserter Paul (Julien Rassam). They wander the streets for hours, while lenser Raymond Fromont’s camera ambles along with them, mimicking their pleasurably unhurried gait.
Just when the film’s motor begins to slowdown, Akerman abruptly strips away her characters’ defenses by robbing them of the insulation offered by the city and its traffic noises, and placing the couple alone in an empty apartment. In an almost plaintive scene, they dance (to Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne”), and then slip between the sheets.
But the film’s real emotional thrust comes in the final reels, where Michelle keeps a prearranged appointment with Danielle (Joelle Marlier), clearly the true object of her affections.
Akerman’s double-edged approach is complemented with effortless precision by Circe, who counters her character’s youthful coolness with unstoppable sincerity and a melancholy undertow. Rassam is also impressive, playing Paul with a generous share of sympathy and sensitivity.