Tomorrow looks to be a busy-ish day so I thought I'd better move my usual Friday blog to a Thursday. This week's review comes courtesy of Sky's new one-premiere-a-day policy which has been providing an unconscionable number of obscure movies, many of them straight-to-disc, but which occasionally unearths a rare gem. While the above film has attracted its share of negative criticism, I found it rather sweet and charming to begin, and ultimately realistically bittersweet and believable.
Written and directed by Victor Levin, the only feature film to date from this television writer, it is not only well-written and well-crafted, featuring an eclectic yet excellent score, but it is far from a conventional rom-com.The title will ring bells amongst cineastes recalling the French film "Cleo from 5 to 7" (1962), the accepted timeframe for extra-marital affairs (although in that movie the heroine was actually anxiously awaiting some test results from her doctor). However the hours are meant to imply a certain French freedom where sexuality might be explored without jeopardising family commitments.
The relationship in question begins with our hero Brian Bloom played by Anton Yelchin 'meeting cute' with older French siren Arielle played by Berenice Marlohe (primarily a television actress whose first feature role was in 2012's "Skyfall" with this movie being her second). He is an aspiring but so-far unpublished writer -- the walls of his flat are papered with rejection letters -- who spies a vision of loveliness forced to smoke outside a public building; he crosses the street to join her and they strike up a conversation. She mentions that she can be found same place, same time every Friday; Brian is smitten and can't wait to see her again. Weekly, they spend two hours together at a museum or the movies and romance is in the air. However when she casually mentions that she is married with two young children, he is repulsed by the idea (typical American horror of the unconventional we're meant to think) and he resolves to stay away from her. His resolve lasts only three weeks before they tumble into bed together.
Oh but it's a civilised affair! Her husband (an underused Lambert Wilson) casually invites Brian to a family dinner party also attended by his mistress Jane (Olivia Thirlby) and a sprinkling of New York intelligentsia. Even their two kiddies accept Brian as maman's boyfriend. So it continues for some time and they all are in attendance when Brian's talent is eventually recognised at a 'New Yorker' award ceremony. With the award cheque in his pocket, Brian decides the time has come to buy a ring for his lover and to propose to legitimise their union. This is the breaking the rules! After initially accepting his proposal and telling Wilson, she breaks off the relationship in a heart-felt letter. Heartbreak stirs Brian's creative juices and his first novel churns from his word-processor.
Yelchin plays with wide-eyed puppy-dog enthusiasm and has been criticised for being far too young and unsophisticated for Marlohe's older woman of the world, but a genuine love between the pair develops as just about believable. Before his recent death in a freak accident, aged 27, the Russian-born actor has appeared in a variety of roles, starting aged 10 in an episode of 'ER' and making his feature debut as an 11-year old opposite Anthony Hopkins in "Hearts of Atlantis" (2001). Best-known for his recurring role in the new "Star Trek" series, he embraced a wide variety of characters and a promising future was certainly cut short. Yelchin, like every one else in this movie is a complex yet strangely likeable character. There are no villains.
Mention should be made of Glenn Close and Frank Langella who play Brian's parents in a too-brief interlude. While they make a most unlikely and non-stereotyped Jewish couple, they exude a nice mixture of paternal horror and maternal love when they are introduced to Arielle. I would have liked to see more of them.
My one criticism is that like many movies, the picture doesn't know when to end. It would have been perfect to finish with Arielle's seeing a stack of Brian's newly-published novel in a bookshop window and happily smiling to herself. But no, Levin is determined to fill in all the gaps with scenes that let us know what happened next. For once, I really didn't need to know.