31st Philadelphia Film Festival: ‘The Passengers Of The Night’ Reviewed

by Rachel Bellwoar

The Passengers of the Night

Directed by Mikhaël Hers

Screenplay by Mikhaël Hers, Maud Ameline, and Mariette Désert

Courtesy KimStim 2022

Life isn’t exactly starry for the Davies family. Matriarch, Elisabeth (Charlotte Gainsbourg), is particularly feeling the strain of her impending divorce and all the emotions that go with it. It’s not, then, that Mikhaël Hers’ The Passengers of the Night is out of touch with reality. It’s that the film rejects cynicism and continues to believe in the best of humanity, despite setbacks.

Instead of focusing on the bad (which does exist in this story), Hers’ film focuses on the good, like when Elisabeth is in need of a job and decides to take a chance and write to her favorite radio host, Vanda (Emmanuelle Béart). The title of the film is a reference to what Vanda calls her listeners and, sure enough, when she responds back, Elisabeth winds up employed at the station despite her lack of experience.

It’s not quite that simple, of course. While the film avoids giving an exact salary, it’s brought up that the pay’s not good, so Elisabeth has to take a second job, part-time, at the library. This is treated as a reality, though, not a hardship.

Through the radio show Elisabeth meets Talulah (Noée Abita), a teenage runaway who Elisabeth subsequently invites to live with her. It’s the kind of situation that always ends badly in the movies, yet here Talulah is allowed to be ulterior motive-free and just be down on her luck, not opportunistic.

While the film takes place in France in the ’80s, it’s not legwarmers and disco that the film inspires nostalgia for but letter writing and a cinema running Birdy, Paris, Texas, and Full Moon in Paris at the same time. Film fans are easy targets for film nostalgia, so maybe it’s self-indulgent, but I fell for it all the same.

Time can be hazy in the movies – what would be months in real life feels like minutes. The Passengers of the Night refuses to let that happen. Instead, time jumps acknowledge the fact that people will come in and out of your life. Things get left unresolved.

While it opens with people celebrating the results of an election, this isn’t a film about big events. It ends when Elisabeth decides to move out of her apartment. For a while, though, you get to spend time with her family, and while the courtship between Talulah and Elisabeth’s son, Mathias (Quito Rayon Richter) could’ve been traded for more scenes with Talulah and Elisabeth (who have an interesting relationship, that’s a cross between mother-daughter and friend), that’s probably subjective.

Courtesy KimStim 2022

The 31st Philadelphia Film Festival ran from October 19th to October 30th. Click here for the full program.

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