Tuesday, April 14, 2015

An iconic story, told impeccably

Victor Levin’s big screen directorial debut 5 to 7, opening this Friday at The Maple Theater, is the almost perfect movie. Let’s count the ways. The film is not only the archetypical New York film with the city’s panoramic scenes and street life as backdrops. It features an aspiring writer in the world’s publishing capital. This story has been told a thousand times but can only ever be told in New York. Then there’s love, a story told an infinite number of times. Yet here it resonates fresh and dreamily between two people, whose backgrounds form the basis of one of the world’s great cultural clashes - Americans and the French. Yes, 5 to 7 is the story of an affair between young Brian Bloom (Anton Yelchin) and Arielle Pierpont (Bérénice Marlohe), the wife of a French diplomat. 5 to 7, the title, refers to the only time of day Arielle, due to family obligations (her husband also has a mistress), can meet. For the all-American Brian it’s love at first sight when he spots Arielle across the street on one of his regular Midtown writing break jaunts. But Arielle, equally enamored, sets him straight right away, to his profound disappointment. She tells him that “of course” she’s married, with two children to boot. It’s a French thing. Bloom can’t abide it. But, she says, “Maybe your culture needs to grow up….Maybe there are some people you marry and people you love.” She will be waiting if he returns. For three weeks Brian is perplexed and torn but eventually can’t resist. “French girls aren’t good for your working habits,” he muses. They meet, she hands him a key to the elegant St. Regis hotel, and the affair begins. For our hero, a not unintelligent if conventional sort, Arielle keeps throwing him curves. One day on the street, her husband, Valéry (Lambert Wilson), pulls up alongside and invites the writer to a family dinner. Bloom’s astounded, calling it “wildly wildly awkward.” But, says Arielle in her knowing manner, “The world will surprise you with its grace if you let it.” Just like out of the French playbook the arrangement seems to work. Everyone gets along. Bloom even meets Valéry’s mistress Jane (Olivia Thirlby). From here, the film chronicles Brian and Arielle’s various rendezvous, from prosaic walks in Central Park to hot sex back at the hotel. And while this is a meditative story about sexual and personal awakening it’s far from a dreary French philosophy lesson. There are enough American and French jokes, for example, to spark another Freedom Fries controversy. In a movie theatre Bloom is chomping away. Scowls Arielle, “Can no American watch film without popcorn?” But in a blindfold tasting she can’t tell the difference between Miller High Life and Guinness Stout. Brian’s father (Frank Langella, his mom is played by Glenn Close, as the stereotypical neurotic Jewish parents), alarmed at the affair, castigates the French for surrendering three times to Hitler. “Have you any idea how hard that is to do?” So why is 5 to 7 a near perfect film? It’s got New York, a love affair, the French (including scenes from François Truffaut’s 1962 Jules and Jim), the writing life (including references to The New Yorker magazine), young ambition, and rites of passage. Lots of films have these. But Levin pulls these iconic themes off impeccably with subtlety, wit, seriousness, and charm, set to a poignant pitch perfect score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans. Moreover, the movie abounds in style. The story is set on New York’s sophisticated Upper East Side, a welcome relief from the site of so many New York films set on the opposite side of the park. And it casts some real life New Yorkers, including esteemed civil rights patriarch Julian Bond and New Yorker editor David Remnick. A near perfect film? Why not perfect? There’s a little early contrivance (I’ll leave you to guess where) and an obvious visual error where the same unlikely pedestrian is in two street scenes. But, really, this is nothing compared to the fact 5 to 7 is the best movie that’s come around in a long long while.  

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