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BRIEF CROSSING (Brève traversée)(director/writer: Catherine Breillat; cinematographer: Éric Gautier; editor: Pascale Chavance; music: Patrick Chevalier; cast: Sarah Pratt (Alice), Gilles Guillain (Thomas); Runtime: 81; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jean-Pierre Guérin; Wellspring; 2001-France-in French and English with English subtitles)
“Sizzling erotic drama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Provocative French director Catherine Breillat’s (“Romance”/’Fat Girl”) sizzling erotic drama Brief Crossing explores the sexual attraction between a naive young man and a much older sophisticated woman. Thomas (Gilles Guillain) is a nerdy 16-year-old French boy catching an ocean liner, Pride of Le Havre, from La Havre to Portsmouth for the overnight journey. In the cafeteria the juvenile meets a sexy mature English woman twice his age named Alice (Sarah Pratt), who invites him to sit at her table. The shy Thomas tells her in halting English that he’s 18, did poorly in school and thinks smoking cigarettes are cool. She tells him she speaks French and the conversation becomes a bit smoother, as in French he opens up more readily. She reveals she’s a photographer and is separated the last three months from her husband of eight years. She bitterly goes through a diatribe saying all men are jerks and that her hubby left her because he lost interest in her. When buying wine in the duty-free shopping center Thomas’s true age is uncovered, but Alice doesn’t seem to mind. They hang out at the ship’s bar, have an awkward conversation, catch a magic act and dance. He tells her he wants to make love to her and reveals that he’s a virgin.

Each is desirous of the other, but the end game of sex is not that easy to get to without playing a power game. Thomas is almost crawling out of his skin to make love to Alice, while she fills the innocent youth with a political argument about how arrogant all men are and that women are more generous which is the reason they get mutilated by men. But she holds out hope for young men because they still operate with a poetry in them. Eventually Thomas takes her back to her cabin and a surprisingly tender love making session takes place as the experienced woman deflowers him. Despite her bitterness, cynicism and depression, she still values the moments of first love and treats it as something special.

Warning: spoiler to follow.

This one-night stand is not just about sex, but opens up a wide mix of emotions that keeps the film honest and never lets it slide into sleaze. It’s in the tradition of Richard Linklater’ Before Sunrise, where the couple must separate at the end of their journey and go on with their lives. It is never made clear why Thomas is coming to England, but at the end we know a lot more about Alice as we discover she’s still married and the mother of a child. We also learn that she’s someone who likes to control things, and probably only had the affair because she knew she could dominate the youngster. Breillat seems neutral as to which side she favors in the battle of the sexes, as she makes both sides look good and bad. But Breillat emphatically shows that no matter what happened, both lovers got something out of the affair. This also means that the viewer also should have gotten something from this gentle psychological drama, that instead of answers offers further reflections on relationships.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”