Victor Levin’s film “5 To 7” begins, for a short while like a rom-com indebted to formula. The protagonist, Brian Bloom (Anton Yelchin) comes off as a wilful tabula rasa, an aspiring writer who has made a collage of his rejection letters, types out copy in pubs alone, and confesses to having no urge to have “friends or girl friends”. Initially, he’s the kind of person Morrissey would write about.
When he sees Arielle (Bérénice Marlohe) nursing a cigarette on her lunch break, and Brian musters up the resolve to approach her, we instinctively know where the film is going. And we do; but we don’t. I was pleasantly surprised when instead of jumping into the usual formula for these things, the camera pulled back to allow a genuine conversation between them, where they get to know each other, measure their differences, weigh themselves up against the other, assess their suitability. Just like real life.
They emerged as fully fleshed human beings, and I was overjoyed, because more than a love story, or a rom-com, or a simple tale of an affair, this is a film about two well-meaning, likeable people who find each other and enjoy each other’s company. She is married, and learned readers my be aware of the rule that the hours of five to seven of an evening are when lovers meet and affairs are conducted (even more learned among you may be aware of Agnes Varda’s “Cleo From 5 To 7”, a film to which this one surprisingly does not pay explicit homage).
The film also a strong line in culture shock. Brian epitomises the typical American; committed to fidelity and reason, structure and tradition, and Arielle the (stereo?) typical French woman, who seems to hold in primacy matters of the heart, and rationalises her affair, and the affair of her husband, as not instances of infidelity, but instead a fact of life. In the same way that they have kids together, they also embark on affairs, just not together.
An early scene shows the pair arguing over the meaning of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, and Arielle reasons that if it shows America for what it is, then America must be empty. Brian is incredulous, but he can’t quite articulate why; perhaps it is that an outsider is objecting to his culture for the first time.
After a considerable weighing up of the options of the affair, Brian decides to embark upon it. And yes, the pair find something that could appropriately be termed love, but one very clever thing the film does is that it isolates the affairs in the wider contexts of their lives. Brian meets Arielle’s husband Valery (Lambert Wilson), who is amiable, friendly, and gives Brian’s career an integral boost. We meet Valery’s affair companion Jane ( a lovely Olivia Thirby), who works in publishing, and provides a useful contact for Brian. All these people have lives, and interests, and talk about art and culture intelligently, with wit; the only odd one out is Arielle herself, but a crucial scene at the end of the film explains this, and provides good reason for it. Brian’s Jewish background is also explored in two scenes with his overbearing parents (Frank Langella and Glenn Close), who appear as cliches, but exit stage right as genuine parents, with a genuine relationship with their son.
Any rom-com is ultimately judged by its ability to transcend the formulas that the genre is mired in, and this one does so effectively and convincingly. These are movie characters, yes, and they act as movie characters do, but there is an edge of reason, in the dialogue and actions, the pauses and intonations, that lend the film great credibility. The characters make grand, sweeping statements and propositions, but unusually for the inherent selfishness of a film of this kind, they also consider the other characters around them. And it has characters for whom love is not the only goal (Jane, for example, comes across as complete in the three major scenes she has). They have aspirations, and goals, and dreams, and talk with words longer than three syllables.
Anton Yelchin’s performance is wonderfully Everyman-ish; it reminded me in the most positive ways of John Cusack’s work in High Fidelity, a person standing at that crossroads where they are just beginning to stop being fiercely open-minded, and starting to become set in their ways. The film is classically composed, with a whiff of Woody Allen, but the subtle self-conscious framings and pleasing colour palette give it a voice of its own.
And ask yourself this; how many films of this kind have you seen that actually understand that closure, ironically enough, is a thing of the movies and the movies alone?