7, 1999 | Olivier Assayas' Late August, Early September is
an affectingly melancholy drama that addresses us in the soft yet insistent
tone of someone sharing intimate secrets. This French-produced import
focuses on a small circle of friends in the Paris literary world over
the course of a year or so. But the title refers not so much to the
calendar as to a state of existence -- that epiphanous period in your
life when you realize you're not a kid anymore, and some long-cherished
dreams may never be fulfilled without a lot of heavy lifting.
Adrien Willner (Francois Cluzet), a 40-year-old novelist with a small
but devoted following, the passing of time has become especially worrisome.
Recently diagnosed with an unnamed but probably fatal illness, he is
forced to take stock of his life and work, and to consider his position
as a critically acclaimed writer whose books have never reached a wide
readership. He's not exactly isolated in his deep blue funk - this is,
after all, a French movie, so you can be sure he has a fawning young
beauty to provide some sexual divertissement - but even his few close
friends can't do much to lighten his mood. "You're all alone,"
he matter-of-factly remarks, "with what goes on inside your body."
(Mathieu Amalric) is profoundly troubled by Adrien's ill health, and
not just because he has long viewed his slightly older acquaintance as a
mentor. Thoughts of mortality and limitations force him to take a closer
look at his own personal and professional discontents. Recently split
from a girlfriend (Jeanne Balibar) who's having painful second thoughts
about their break-up, he's trying to get his life in order - and, just
as important, sell the apartment he used to share with his ex-lover
- before committing to a new relationship with a beautiful young clothing
designer (Virginie Ledoyen). He senses that he is just treading water
while working as a mid-level publishing executive. And he worries about
resolving his conflicting feelings of sympathy and envy -- and, perhaps,
resentment -- in regard to Adrien.
August, Early September glides at an unhurried pace through the
day-to-day lives of Gabriel, Adrien and the people in their orbit. Appropriately
enough for a movie about literary types, Assayas breaks his loosely
plotted story into segments, like chapters in a novel. As the interlocking
episodes unfold, people contemplate the limits of friendship, the evanescence
of love and the durability of art -- and try not to appear afraid as
they maneuver through emotional minefields.
the characters and their milieu are specifically rendered, the movie
effortlessly achieves a universal resonance. The ensemble cast is flawless
across the board, further enhancing the movie's ability to stealthily
trigger shocks of recognition. At times, you may find surprise yourself while noting:
"I know that guy!" At other times, you may startle
yourself while realizing, "I am that guy!"