A Single Girl (Benoit Jacquot)

Rating: *** (out of ****)

A young girl, Valerie, meets her boyfriend at a café and informs him that she is pregnant. They discuss what ought to be done. There is no time to resolve the matter now; Valerie is about to be late for her first day at her new job, working room-service in a four-star hotel. Promising to return in an hour, she hurries to the hotel to learn the basics of her new position. After an hour on the job, in which nothing momentous occurs, she returns to the café, and the conversation with her boyfriend continues. Believe it or not, apart from a brief and unnecessary epilogue, I've just described the entire narrative of the French film A Single Girl (originally La fille seule, which I suspect translates more accurately as A Girl Alone), the bulk of which unfolds in real time and is less concerned with the fate of the baby that Valerie is carrying than with how the uncertainty of her situation affects her ability to deliver croissants and towels. Director Benoit Jacquot, who co-wrote the picture with Jerome Beaujour, sets his protagonist in motion in the opening reel and then follows her wherever she goes: down the street, across the street, into the hotel's staff entrance, into the kitchen, down the corridor, into numerous occupied and unoccupied rooms, back to the street -- no journey, route or action is too trivial or irrelevant to be recorded. If this sounds to you like a stunt, that's because it is, but it's a very effective one; because we know what's on Valerie's mind, everything she does for the next hour, no matter how routine, is fraught with emotional significance. (What's more, by sticking with her during the first hour of her new job, we actually learn a trade, which is more education than most movies provide.) Ironically, the parts of the film that don't work are the most conventionally dramatic: the conversations with her boyfriend, which are clumsily written; and the aforementioned epilogue, which takes place a year or so later and is apparently intended to underscore the idea that everything in life is ephemeral. We got that. Virginie Ledoyen (Olivier Assayas' Cold Water), who plays Valerie, is in almost every frame of the film, yet it's difficult to say how impressive she is in the role, because the nature of A Single Girl is such that what she does virtually transcends the common notion of "acting"; most of the time, she is simply required to Be, which she does beautifully (in both senses of the word). Some would argue, no doubt, that simply Being represents the essence of good acting; that's debatable (care to chat with Academy-Award-winner Nicolas Cage?), but what is certain is that, in this case, simply Following and Observing is the essence of a unique and memorable film.