The Passengers of the Night
In the mid-80s, Elisabeth (Charlotte Gainsbourg) finds herself alone following a messy divorce from her husband, suddenly left to raise and support her two loving children whilst simultaneously finding some form of employment and financial stability. Eventually falling into a job working the circuit board on Varda Porval’s (Emmanuelle Béart) night-time radio show, she meets Talulah (Noee Abita), a troubled young woman with no place to call home. Elisabeth introduces her to her children, Judith (Megan Northam) and Matthias (Quito Rayon Richter), and the family become a close-knit support group for one another as they tackle their individual problems, from romance to employment to drug use.
Setting a film in Paris during a decade such as the 80s opens up a treasure chest of opportunities when cinematography, costume design and soundtrack are concerned, but where The Passengers of the Night really strikes a spectacular chord is in its writing and the performances of its central cast. Gainsbourg leads the charge in her performance as a single mother thrust into the grip of a fast-changing world – a real tour-de-force in her dominance of every scene she graces, but this was always to be expected from the Cesar Award-winning actress.
Likewise, Abita and Richter give exceptionally mature performances as characters who become more emotionally intertwined with the passing of time, once again proving their talents and status as rising stars of the future. This French language film is dreamily endearing as it takes on its relatively simple concept, exploring how we grow as individuals over time and how some bonds are thankfully everlasting. Seeing how vulnerable Elisabeth can be is difficult, but beholding how dearly she cherishes the small, tender moments with family and loved ones is enough to move viewers to tears.
Visually, one sees 80s Parisian suburbia in all its glory, brought to life once more thanks to the hard work of cinematographer Sébastien Buchmann, who, through stunning transitions, allows the audience to witness seasons and the passing of time on an array of film types, including some fabulous 35mm. The score is a floating, gorgeous triumph, courtesy of Anton Sanko, who is more frequently known for his work in the horror genre, but in this instance sweeps viewers off their feet not in fear but an absorbing warmth.
The Passengers of the Night is a story simply about people, living their normal lives and facing the tribulations we all know too well. There are moments where certain character developments can be called into question and the lack of closure over one particular story arc might be a small bugbear, but director Mikhaël Hers and co-writer Maud Ameline have crafted an exquisite blend of beautiful dialogue and cinematic splendour that makes this French film a dainty dream-like voyage that is all the more delightful.
The Passengers of the Night does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2022 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.
Watch the trailer for The Passengers of the Night here: