There’s something undoubtedly interesting in catching sight of a young Juliette Binoche on-screen, not least for the manner in which it compares to her modern persona. Made in 1985 Rendez-vous finds the actress at the start of her career, long before she became a figurehead for ‘international’ cinema through the likes of Three Colours: Blue, Damage and her Oscar win for The English Patient. Though she was a little older at the time, here she’s playing 18 as a young girl who has escaped to Paris, as she puts it, “to live her life”. It’s a journey which is presumably represented in the sombre train ride credit sequence, yet whilst sombre may fit many of the Binoche’s later roles (see also Les Enfants du siècle or Alice et Martin), it’s certainly not the case here. Rather we’re faced with an actress who’s youthful, energetic, upbeat and infectiously so.
For Rendez-vous is a very youthful film. Director André Téchiné may have been approaching his forties at the time, but he’s joined by the much younger Oliver Assayas as his co-writer. Moreover, their focus is the ménage à trois which forms between Binoche and Lambert Wilson’s sex show performer and Wadeck Stanczak’s estate agent, both of whom are in their early twenties. And it’s certainly true that they understand their characters, revelling in their enigmatic qualities and naïve inconsistencies. Binoche’s character, for example, comes across as both manipulative and a complete innocent, whilst the news of her promiscuities and the fact that she’s a bad actress (the character that is, not Binoche) further complicates matters. Likewise, Wilson’s mysterious figure, whom she soon becomes fascinated in, remains wonderfully undefined: is he genuinely psychopathic and suicidal, or are these just mere youthful affectations? Either way – and the same is true of Stanczak – Téchiné and Assayas would appear to have perfectly captured what it is to be young, even if their creations are a little fucked up along the way.
Indeed, it’s tempting to read the pair as grand manipulators in all this. All three characters are in some way going through their own individual dramas – Binoche has been in Paris for three months by the film’s opening, Wilson’s eventful recent past is slowly divulged, and Stanczak’s increasing obsession with Binoche hints at certain unresolved issues – yet Téchiné and Assayas have conspired to bring them together at this exact moment. In fact, their meetings are generally predicated on coincidence rather than any grand design (which, of course, makes the narrative pleasingly unpredictable), a fact which only serves to further enhance the sense of manipulation, as does the characters’ overall innocence. Our trio may be unable to grasp the niceties of their relationships, yet this never seems to be the case with our writers and director.
Not that Rendez-vous presents a clinical detachment, however. Téchiné won the Best Director prize at Cannes for his efforts and it’s tempting to see this primarily as a result of his energy. He’s in there with his characters at all times, revelling in their naïvété and pretentiousness and as such borrows a great deal from them. Just as it’s fascinating to see Binoche so enthusiastic, the same goes Téchiné too; he clearly feels a great affinity for those onscreen. Indeed, it is this which proves to be his undoing as the second half demonstrates. At almost exactly the halfway mark Jean-Louis Trintignant makes an appearance as the first significantly older character to enter the frame. Yet whereas we’d hope for Téchiné and Assayas to therefore present him as such, he instead comes across in much the same way as our main trio. He too is pretentious, a bundle of contradictions and ill-defined - and in this case it simply doesn’t ring true. It may seem strange to say so, but Trintignant’s arrival effectively ruins the film. We realise that Téchiné wasn’t simply aping the characters as a mean of understanding them, but suffers from the very same traits. Indeed, once the older actor appears Rendez-vous falls apart and reveals its true colours; no longer is it just the characters who are naïve, pretentious and potentially empty, but the film itself. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the first half loses any of its power or effect, but it does mean that Téchiné find himself with nowhere to go.
Another of Second Sight’s barebones releases of late (see also Force of Evil, Body and Soul, Stormy Weather and Danton), Rendez-vous also comes with only a merely okay presentation. The film is presented anamorphically in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and taken from a reasonably clean print (there are moderates flecks apparent from time to time), but technically it demonstrates a number of flaws. The slight graininess of the image prompts some intermittent artefacting (presumably not helped by the fact that the film comes on a single-layered disc) and then there’s also some prominent edge enhancement to contend with. The soundtrack fares better with a DD2.0 offering in the original French which remains crisp and generally clean throughout, but sadly is accompanied by non-optional, though electronically generated English subtitles.