Have you ever felt like getting up one night, jumping in your car and leaving everything you’ve ever known behind? Well, you’re not alone. If you fantasize about sudden escapades but never really act on your lecherous impulses, you can always do the next best thing – vicariously live and experience what all of it is like from your cinema seat. Allow Jérôme Reybaud and his stunning film, Four Days in France (Jours de France), to take you not only through some of France’s most breathtaking and fascinating locations, but also through a myriad of sexual flings with complete strangers that will make you question the appeal of monogamy.
Invariably at every film festival there’s one or two films that don’t get as much festival buzz around them and somehow go under the radar. This is definitely the case for Four Days in France (Jours de France) of this year’s Outfest edition. Combining Rimbaud poems, art, anonymous sex, classical music and the notorious dating app Grindr, Reybaud’s debut is undoubtedly a daring, but impressive addition to gay cinema. The ambitious 140-minute film follows the story of Pierre Thomas (Pascal Cervo), a 30 year-old homosexual man who embarks on an impromptu erotic trip through France in search of riveting encounters, sexual or not, that can even slightly diminish his unwavering sense of loneliness. After taking a final look at his sleeping lover, Paul (Arthur Igual), Pierre decides to leave his Parisian apartment and begins his intriguing chasing game for potential gay partners. The film is sublimely constructed in such a way that, amidst countless intimate and gripping rendezvous, there is still invariably a strong remnant of isolation which the protagonist can never seem to shake despite his sincere and exuberant efforts.
Using Grindr as a compass in order to cruise the more untamed parts of France in his white Alfa Romeo, Pierre meets a series of amiable and welcoming people, but also some not-so-friendly strangers. Amongst them are the handsome young man Matthieu (Matthieu Chevé), the second-rate singer Diane Querqueville (Fabienne Babe), a traveling salesperson (Bertrand Nadler), a thief (Laetitia Dosch) and his former English teacher (Nathalie Richard). Each of these encounters can be considered a short film in it of itself and carries with it a unique message about the human psyche, functioning a valuable life lesson for our rather amoral protagonist. However, Reybaud’s uncanny road movie doesn’t aim to present a dreary collection of aphorisms to the viewer, but is rather concerned with immersing them in a storyworld of buoyant eroticism and lavish scenery. To this end, most of the plot develops within the French countryside and unexpected locations like bathroom stalls or a frilly motel room.
Although Four Days in France (Jours de France) is a film about homosexuality, presenting two parallel road trips – Pierre’s unbridled escapade and Paul’s uneasy search for his partner – Reybaud entrancingly introduces feminine perspectives into his debut. As such, the movie’s entire narrative is permeated by intersections with different women who offer commentary or make observations about the protagonist and homosexuality in general. The most memorable is Judith Joubert’s (Liliane Montevecchi) soliloquy which serves to offer some form of explanation for Pierre’s spontaneous adventure and his fondness for escapism – „the things that seemed so profuse, the road, France, the world, life itself suddenly appear empty; and then without any ties, without a home, without a safety net, the ground slips away and one falls”. Although the viewer never receives any background on the protagonist and never finds out why he left his lover in the first place, Reybaud does provide us with clues regarding Pierre’s motivations and feelings of isolation.
Hastily moving from one bizarre interaction with a quirky stranger to another, the film is brimming with absurd humor, drollery and deadpan irony. One particularly memorable episode is of course the motel scene where the two men masturbate in unison under a banal painting. The imagery, themes and performances in Reybaud’s debut are evocative of Alain Guiraidie’s Stranger by the Lake and Staying Vertical through their irony and pronounced sensuality. However, the former does seem to be lacking in sexual charge – for a movie that’s centered on the world’s largest gay social network app, Four Days in France (Jours de France has little to no steamy sexual depictions, unlike the bold work of Guiraidie. Moreover, the only erotic scenes in the movie are fairly conservative and not at all sexually explicit – which may leave some viewers feeling disappointed.
Ultimately, Reybaud’s debut shies away from the more acclaimed, unbridled and fearless portrayals of gay sexuality that are usually depicted on the big screen. However, this tamed approach allows for more emphasis to be placed on the depth of the characters and the subtleties which shape their behavior. Albeit more cerebral than Guiraidie’s work, Four Days in France (Jours de France) still manages to create a seductive and captivating storyworld which draws attention to the transient nature of relationships and life in general, as well as to the importance of relishing each journey, moment and interaction as unique experiences that we will only partake in once.