A Tout de Suite (Right Now), long time writer/director Benoit Jacquot’s homage to French New Wave, shows us youth’s splendor but also its ugliness, powerlessness and perplexity as we follow a 19-year-old girl on a voyage with murdering bandits.
The “two lovers on the run” story is classic movie concept. Unlike Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde or Nicholas Ray’s They Live by Night, A Tout de Suite follows the heroine’s emotion and voice instead of her criminal capering. It proves to be more dull than enlightening.
Shot in nostalgic black and white, the film has a peculiar, emotionally disconnected feeling to it; something to do with the fact that paying tribute to the French New Wave is, at its essence, paying tribute to a tribute. The “on the run” bank robber melodrama is hardly a genre in need of revitalization, nor is the New Wave in need of a breath of fresh air, giving irony to the title, Right Now.
C’est la Vie
Lili is a young, rebellious art student living with her wealthy father in Paris during the mid-1970s. She seems to have a decent life, full of prosperity, friends, love interests, and a good education. When Lili and her friend meet a young Moroccan man, Bada (Ouassini Embarek), at a nightclub, she quickly falls in love with him. He starts buying her expensive gifts and gives her evasive answers to what he does for a living.
One night, Bada calls saying that he robbed a bank. He and his accomplice, Alain (Nicolas Duvauchelle), have killed somebody, and now there is a standoff with police. The two escape and call Lili for a place to stay. Seduced by the danger of the situation, Lili throws her comfortable life away and escapes to Morocco with Bada, Alain, and Alain’s girlfriend, Joelle (Laurence Cordier).
On our journey with her, we observe how she foolishly reacts to romance and adventure, and we are meant to think “Oh, she’s only 19, so she’s allowed to make these immature choices in her adolescence.” Well, I was recently 19, and I wasn’t nearly as naive as she is. But I’m going to give Jacquot the benefit of the doubt, since Lili is based on the experiences of Elisabeth Fanger, recounted in her memoir, When I Was 19.
At first, the four fugitives live it up; staying at fancy hotels, going to prestigious clubs, eating expensive food, etc. But things start getting tense when they find out they are wanted criminals, even in Morocco. They become increasingly nervous, and after Lili is stopped by customs when they go to Greece, the three other members of the band leave her at the airport. Lili is forced to fend for herself for the first time in her life.
A Tout de Suite is full of people who do stupid things and then are surprised at the consequences. After the robbery, Bada goes to restaurants, but cannot eat; he goes to the movies, but cannot laugh; and he goes to bed, but cannot sleep. He becomes irritable and questions where to go and what to do. Did he think robbing a bank and killing people would be some sort of emotional walk in the park? Lili drops her life and runs off with these murdering thieves, and then is shocked and devastated when they ditch her. What, exactly, did she expect? A life filled with joy and love with these temperamental killers? The stupidity of the characters starts to become a distraction, and eventually left me not caring about what happened to them.
While most of the character’s choices are questionable, there are some situations that are quite emotionally gratifying, thanks to Le Besco’s performance. She sports a great poker face throughout most of the film, yet her droopy and bleak expression makes her a poster girl for teen angst and confusion. Her weary look of abandonment is particularly convincing.
I’ve never seen any of Jacquot’s earlier films (Sade, Tosca), but I must say that I am unimpressed with this project. Others have praised his work, but I find his monotonous style difficult to sit through. The camera work is so undemanding that we end up seeing the same shots for each scene. After a while, I was bored by every scene looking exactly the same.
While there are some touching scenes, full of sentiment and passion, in the end, we’re left with a bland reaction to Lili’s journey and Jacquot’s filmmaking.