More or less at its halfway mark, the LA Film Festival continues without me, but before I left I caught Orly, one of those festival films common to the experience: small, with a potentially interesting conceptual slant, unlikely to get any sort of wide release and a film one is glad to have seen, but which one is unlikely to urge anyone else to seek out.
The interesting slant is that it takes place in the eponymous Paris airport, filmed in almost real time over the course of a morning with what must have been at least a semi-hidden camera since most of the crowd of travelers (and there’s a release headache-inducing number of them) take no notice of either the film-makers or the protagonists.
In fact, it doesn’t quite all take place at the airport: the film opens in a living room with a middle-aged man, Théo, talking painfully an semi-idiotically on the telephone to his recent ex, Sabine. He’s only obliquely related to what follows, and we leave the airport only once again to follow a young woman in a cab, who it turns out is the same Sabine.
In the airport itself, the film focuses on three couples — the first is a man and a woman who meet in passing and fall gently into a life conversation, she apparently dissatisfied with her married life in Montreal, he just decided to return to live in Paris from America, perhaps against his better judgment. An older woman and her consistently disrespectful teenage son pass the time in conversation that keeps returning to the sort of semi-deliberate misunderstandings that makes the relationship ring true. Later on, a young German couple of whom the boy keeps wandering off to follow the woman who caught his eye in the airport store, Sabine, leaving his (much prettier) girlfriend reading Ada and admiring a nearby baby.
We also return from time to time to a check-in girl who sits and stares, exchanges minimal small talk with her colleague, and eats a sandwich. Sabine sits and reads a letter from her lover Théo, who returns in voiceover, before the airport is evacuated for some unspecified alert and we return with her to another taxi; this time she is unexpectedly accompanied by a small child who pointedly ignores her question “where were you going?” before the film comes to a close.
This ending epitomizes the deliberate inconsequentially. Essentially, the film is a portrait of the airport waiting lounge and a tiny sampling of the sort of lives which pass through, although peppered with suggestive elements, such as when the first woman (Natacha Régnier) posits that “when you meet someone you meet yourself”, or when Théo’s voiceover describes looking around a cafe and seeing an old man whom he designates as God, among us, observing. But equally, the most oft-repeated lines are “I don’t know” or “I’ve no idea”; there’s no scheme here to create a web of meaning from quotidian and barely-related conversations.
It’s fortunate therefore that the patter of the script is neat and well-played, particularly by Régnier, quintessentially French both in her easy openness of conversation and body language, and in her amusing reaction to discovering she’s lost her coat; also by Mireille Perrier as the mother, whose faces, especially at her son’s neatly set-up revelation, are priceless. Neither character, nor any of the others, is particularly solicitous of our interest, however, any more than in a randomly overheard conversation, which is undoubtedly part of the point, but in the end renders the film – yes I am going to say it – litte more interesting than spending an hour and a half in a departures lounge.