Following a sold-out screening and Q&A for her directorial debut, Jane by Charlotte (which you can read about here), Charlotte Gainsbourg took to the stage to introduce her latest film, The Passengers of the Night (Les Passagers de la Nuit), as part of the 30th French Film Festival UK. Not wanting to say too much - as she felt talking about the film before people have seen it is a little odd - she simply said it was a film that meant a lot to her, and that she was excited to do it because of the director, Mikhaël Hers (Amanda, This Summer Feeling).
The film centres around Charlotte's character, Elisabeth, who has recently separated from her husband and is struggling to look after her teenage children while trying to make ends meet. Her attempts to re-enter the workforce are met with frustration, until she finds a job on the switchboard of a late-night call radio show she regularly listens to. The show's host, Vanda (played to perfection by the ever-amazing Emmanuelle Béart), entrusts Elisabeth with screening callers, giving her the renewed sense of purpose she so desperately needs. One night a homeless girl, Talulah (Noée Abita), turns up at the studio and, after recording a segment for the programme, goes home with Elisabeth to stay in her spare room.
Talulah's presence has a major impact on the family - most notably Elisabeth's teenage son, Mathias (Quito Rayon-Richter), who is sixteen and struggling to find his place in the world. In that sense, the film is very much a coming-of-age story - first for Mathias as he navigates those difficult years, but most of all for Elisabeth as she comes into a new age of hope and purpose. This 'found family' weave in and out of each other's lives against the backdrop of 1980s' Paris, as depicted through stock footage and other films of the time. It's cleverly done and doesn't take away from the experience, especially as the film was made under strict conditions during the pandemic.
The film is exceptionally well-cast (they had me at Gainsbourg and Béart), but Rayon-Richter and Abita stand out as two very talented new discoveries. As Mathias, Rayon-Richter gives an understated performance that perfectly encapsulates the struggling poet caught in the throes of adolescence. The tender romance between he and Talulah is part of the growth process for both characters, and helps them to see a road beyond their current circumstances. That eternal spark of hope lies at the heart of the film, and goes to show that even when things seem to be at their lowest, you can make it through if you surround yourself with the right people.
The Passengers of the Night can be seen at Glasgow Film Theatre on November 21, Nottingham Broadway Cinema on December 8, and at Waterman Arts Centre on December 10, as part of the 30th French Film Festival UK.