Before the Last Train, by Sarah Brinks
Just a Sigh, or its French title Le Temps De L’Aventure (roughly translates to “the time of adventure”), are both equally terrible titles for this French film about love. At its heart that is what the film distills down to. There are a lot of things in the film that distract and even at times detract from that idea but its central idea is about love. We’ve all sought comfort after a loss or wondered about a stranger whose eye we caught on a train. We’ve all felt the rush of returned affection and the heat of new love. Just a Sigh attempts to explore those ideas but ultimately never quite gets there.
Just a Sigh is about a woman, Alix (Emmanuelle Devos), in her early forties who is a stage actress. She takes a day trip to Paris from Calais for an audition. On the train she sees a man (Gariel Bryne) crying. They keep catching eye on the train and when they finally arrive in Paris he asks her for directions to a church. After her audition Alix decides to go to the church. Once there, she realizes she has accidentally funeral crashed. She connects again with Doug (Bryne) and after a series of exchanges they end up making love in Doug’s hotel. She leaves and we see that Alix really doesn’t have her life together. She is broke, she can’t get in touch with her boyfriend, she has friction with her family. She keeps missing her train back to Calais so she goes back to Doug’s hotel where they reconnect again. We see that they have fallen in love in this brief time and that the struggles of their real lives are what have pushed them together.
There were parts of this film that I really liked. I liked the sense you got that they both needed to find each other at this exact moment and their experience of fast, life changing love. What doesn’t work is that almost all of the character development in the film is one sided. We know almost everything there is to know about Alix and almost nothing about Doug. That could have been intentional on the part of the writer because all that we know about him is what he tells Alix but it makes it hard to invest in his part of the whirl-wind romance.
It is difficult to not draw comparisons to the Before Sunrise trilogy. While the films are clearly different, Just a Sigh feels like the knock-off-brand version of those films. In both films the couples meet on a train, they both have a limited time together, and they both fall for each other almost immediately. What Before Sunrise does so well that Just a Sigh only scratches the surface of is creating two characters we can invest in and a relationship that is interesting. I never really connected with Just a Sigh. I think the majority of the fault lies with the writing on this one but some fault must also be blamed on the direction. Everything in the film feels distant; it never really invites you into its world.
I have a few technical complaints about the film. The subtitles are in white and are sometimes difficult to read sometimes because the background is also white. Sadly my three years of high school French didn’t give me enough to fill in the gaps. Also the sound mixing occasionally leaves something to be desired. When Doug and Alix have quiet moments together they are often mostly in English. While this solves the subtitle problem, sometimes it is so quiet you can’t hear what they are saying.
I don’t want it to sound like the film is all bad. It really isn’t. It just falls firmly into the “meh” category. The film does have a great sense of humor. There are some laugh out loud moments that are a nice break from the melancholy of Doug and Alix. Also the acting is strong. Bryne, of course, is solid and does his best with an almost dimensionless character and Devos fully embodies the hot-mess that is Alix. I want to give special kudos to Gilles Privat who plays one of the funeral attendees, Rodolphe. Rodolphe is the punch line to several of the laugh out loud moments and is a real stand out in a very small role.
Just a Sigh has some lovely, romantic moments and Bryne and Devos do the best they can, but overall I was underwhelmed by the film. The film will make you think about all the strangers on trains whose eyes you’ve caught and wondered what it would be like to actually meet them. Unfortunately though, the film is never as interesting as your imagination.