I love films about two strangers who meet and feel a connection to one another and take the time to explore that connection. Solange Martin’s À cran (released in English as On the Edge) is one such film. It’s about Clara, a woman who goes to pick up her husband at the airport, but he isn’t there. She phones the hotel where he is staying and finds out that he is with another woman. She is shattered. This is a story told countless times in film: a woman discovers she’s being cheated on and either stays with the man or leaves him. However, À cran takes a unique approach. Clara decides to engage in her own infidelity not as a way to “get back” at her husband but to feel an authentic bond with another person and reconnect with her sexuality.
At the airport, Clara meets a young man named Robert, and the two of them immediately feel an attraction. The movie is brilliant in how it prolongs that attraction and withholds sexual consummation until the very end. Most of the film centers around Clara and Robert driving around the streets of Paris, stopping at bars, and interacting with the immigrants who make up the working class of the city. Martin provides a sensitive and humane portrait of these immigrants. A gas station attendant gives them tea and flowers. A hotel clerk sings along to a film in his language. This is a chance for Clara to leave the confines of her upper class, comfortable life, and have a more authentic experience of Paris. Robert himself is working class, a rugby player who got injured and now works at the airport.
The movie is very playful, which makes it a delight to watch. At one bar, Clara tries to tell a joke, but it bombs. Later, they run around the streets like teenagers and Robert hurts his hand, forcing them to stop by the hospital. There is a freedom that they feel in each other’s presence, the freedom to be silly or to tell bad jokes, even to cry and be sad, as Clara is when she talks about her husband and the pain she feels over his betrayal. Being together makes them happy.
While Clara and Robert are attracted to each other, the majority of the film focuses not on sex but on conversation. It’s a profoundly romantic movie in that regard because it’s interested in looking at how two people make a connection, how they build trust and intimacy. When they finally do make love at a hotel, it’s all the more intense due to that emotional connection they have nurtured. They luxuriate in one another’s bodies, making the scene more erotic than purely sexual. Afterwards, Clara says that she’s never made love like that, implying that she has no real connection with her husband. She declares that she is born on the day she and Robert made love. For her, sex with Robert is like an awakening, a kind of salvation because she has found a man to whom she can give all of herself, both body and soul.
But the morning comes and Clara has to return to her children and her home. She’s so different when she enters the domestic sphere of her apartment. Gone is the Clara of the night before with her laugh and her playfulness, her confidence and wildness. This Clara is prim in her cardigan, her hair immaculate. She returns to her roles as wife and mother, but Robert isn’t prepared to let her go. He shows up and makes a declaration of love. He wants them to be together. They’ve known each other only a few hours, but what they’ve felt and what they’ve revealed has sparked a deep and powerful passion. Like Clara, he feels reborn by their love.
It’s a happy ending. The film gives the impression that Clara will leave her husband to be with Robert, that she will make the courageous choice to escape a loveless marriage in order to plunge into a new relationship that holds the promise of true and lasting love. In this way, I see À cran as a feminist film that centers female pleasure and agency. I felt so much pleasure myself watching this movie because I think many women want to hear the words that Robert says, they want to be loved without conditions, they want a passionate connection.
I love the idea that one night can change your life, that meeting one person can transform you, that it’s never too late to find love, that when you feel broken and shattered you can find hope, you can be saved. I don’t always feel these things in my real life, but when I see them in a film, I believe in them for a little while, I believe in the possibilities of life again.