There’s a lot of middle-age crazy going on in “Just a Sigh,” a bittersweet romance that follows the one-day stand between a frustrated French woman and the British professor she meets on a train to Paris.
“Meets” overstates the first encounter of Alix (Emmanuelle Devos) and Doug (Gabriel Byrne). After some subtle staring, he asks her for directions to a church before heading off to the funeral of a lost love. She goes to her apartment, and then to an audition.
In almost every circumstance, it would have ended there.
But it doesn’t end there. After an overlong setup, the two reconnect in awkward fashion.
Initially, it is all carefully low-key. The two aren’t hormone-powered teens or fling-seeking singles – they are both in other relationships when we meet them – and writer/ director Jérôme Bonnell also does nothing to hide their ages. Devos is trim and agile, but she is close to 50 in real life and plays 43 here. Byrne, ruggedly handsome, is looking more rugged these days, in his mid-60s.
Perhaps that is why the relationship is so tentative. They both are aware of the dangers of knowing someone too well. If their time together is meant to be an escape, it also should not be another trap.
Eventually, Bonnell puts the couple on a path as straight and cinematically familiar as the train tracks that connect Calais to Paris. The real pleasure of the movie comes from the actors and from the casual references Bonnell tosses in for his audience to catch or ignore at their pleasure.
Alix is an actress, and we first meet her right before she heads on stage in a production of “A Doll’s House.” She is no Nora, but Alix may have found something of herself in the role – unappreciated by her longtime boyfriend (who here is just a voice on the phone), aging out of her hopes for her career and, on the practical side, consistently short of money.
Bonnell peels back the layers on Alix gradually, as she scrapes up cash for her train trip and auditions for another role that also hits close to home. Talking to the young man filming her audition, she asks of the character, “Who is this girl? What happens to her?”
His response: “Don’t get bogged down. She’s just a little lost.”
Just a little lost – ah, Alix knows that feeling. And that is how she finds her way to the church where Doug was heading, in the middle of a funeral for a woman she never knew and with no way to explain herself to the man from the train.
He spots her, though, and is curious. They talk. He tells Alix he is “devastated, but calm.” She tells him she doesn’t know why she is, essentially, stalking him.
And so it begins.
Shortly afterward, it almost ends, as Alix slips out of Doug’s hotel room and heads in a completely different direction on her daylong adventure. These scenes fill in more of Alix’s back story, and we begin to understand her better.
As for Doug, he remains more of a mystery, with Byrne doing his best to fill him out. Like Alix, we want to like him, and more than she does, we want to know him better.
The busy day goes fast and the lovers leave one another changed, of course.
Whether it is for better or worse, together or not, is left to be imagined.