Trolley problem

No way that 2022 will produce a better Covid-era liberation visual than a thirty-second tracking shot of Adèle Exarchopoulos on an e-scooter in a hot climate.

I avoided Zero Fucks Given for a while thinking that the title meant some slice of French extremity, with the divine Mlle Ex. screaming for an hour or perhaps mugging a pensioner. Not so. It’s a deft, melancholic film about how voluntary choices and unavoidable burdens get tangled up; and primarily about grief, with flight attendant Cassandre making it clear that the death of her mother in a car crash is the source of whatever ennui smoothers her in the day job.

The air of wary distraction Exarchopoulos transmits without the aid of an on/off switch has been used differently by different films, but this one puts her against non-actors and actual flight attendants with their own authentic fake-not-fake weariness and the effect is something like internal reflection. As usual it’s impossible to sense what she did on the previous take to line this one up or did on the next one in response. She might have burst into song, or levitated.

Cassandre’s perambulations around airports and malls are at one point accompanied by of all things the old Vangelis track To the Unknown Man,” and whatever that does for younger viewers it carries the promise and disappointment of the Seventies becoming the Eighties for anyone who was there when it came out, a body electric that turned out not to sing very well, a limbo of strip-lighted futures.

You wouldn’t confuse this for a joint by Olivier Assayas, former master of the airport-hotel capitalist downer, although Zero Fucks Given is built on similar worries about people and their place in profit systems, even if it’s looking down the other end of the telescope. But mainly it’s built on a bit of alchemy, in which a character who could be almost everyone is played by an actor of whom they have so far only made the one.

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