The best thing about film societies is that they get you to see films you’ve never heard of and they’re nearly always worthwhile. For Asphalte (with a much more prosaic English title), we were outdoors on a cold Autumn night but this quirky French film about the connections we seek and cannot avoid in a faceless city kept us absorbed until the end.
Set in a shabby and uninspiring apartment block, we see the stories of four people who live alone. Sterkowitz (Gustave Kervern) is the lone dissenter at a meeting to agree on the upgrade of the lift. You admire his resolve and understand the logic of his argument but it is his refusal of the protection and support of a community that becomes his undoing.
On another floor Jeanne Meyer (Isabelle Huppert) has a flat full of unpacked boxes and seems to be in angry transition from a life of success and companionship. Charly (Jules Benchetrit) who lives down the hall is young, still at school but his parents, or any type of adult guardian, are absent, present only through notes left for him on a table. When the two meet, their usual isolation makes each prickly but they find a connection that keeps drawing them back to the warmth of companionship.
The third story is at first the most absurd. We see a US astronaut, John McKenzie (Michael Pitt), in a space station, marking time and watching the world revolve. A malfunction sees him return to earth in a capsule that lands on the roof of the apartment block. NASA tells him he must stay put for a few days, to avoid public embarrassment, and so he knocks on the first door he finds, that of Madame Hamida.
For each of our protagonists, they have the opportunity to engage with another human being and, for each, the experience is uncomfortable. Sterkowitz befriends a nurse (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) and strives to impress her with tall tales about his life. The connection is tenuous but, for both, it is a moment of warmth that pulls them inexorably together. For Jeanne and Charly, two fiercely independent people, it is when they lower their guard that they remember what it is to be loved. For McKenzie and Mme Hamida, it is their lack of common language that at first hampers but then allows them to really see the other. Both funny and sad, this is a lyrical and thought-provoking film.
Bechdel test – fail