Late August, early September, the twentysomething characters of Mikhael Hers’s Memory Lane come together in the Parisian suburb where they grew up. Some still live there, while others, like migrating birds, are drawn back by the inviting weather—or, like any good son or daughter, the whims and pains that afflict their parents. An ode to looking out windows, at least for part of its running time, the film builds a mood of nostalgia from its scarcely florid fixation on atmosphere: the blustery wind, chirping insects, a gorgeous hilltop view of distant Paris. Blink and you’ll miss a shot of the seven friends, as children, strolling through the literal manifestation of the film’s title: a stretch of grassland surround by trees where they obviously played and romanced, pondering where they would be in their twenties. Did they wonder, though, if their lives would stay exactly the same?
Hours after seeing Memory Lane, my mind struggled to remember its characters, perhaps because Hers and co-writer Mariette Désert do not bestow them with more than a single character trait, if even that, and so the young men and women of the film come to blend into each other like the night unpretentiously bleeds into the day. If their dramas aren’t petty it’s because they don’t have any—or, at least, act as if they don’t: No one talks of the past, or the future for that matter, and when a girl grapples with her father’s looming death, her anxiety is practically indistinguishable from the discomfort she exhibits when bumming a cigarette from a complete stranger. In this charmingly inert corner of the world where leisure reigns supreme and dawdling seems like a great virtue, the only thing anyone sweats is the prospect of having something to do.
One character, Raphaël (Thomas Blanchard), entertains suicide, and another, Christelle (Dounia Sichov), repeatedly crosses paths with a skeevy-looking drifter who, like the group of men that chases after a bus in a later scene, reeks of danger. But death comes to no one, and you get a sense that if it did, these idle characters would merely shrug at it, understanding it as another expected blip on life’s radar. Buñuel might have poked fun at their discreet charms, or lack thereof, while Téchiné might have found poetry in the film’s quotidian setting, then wrung a universal message from it, but Hers adopts a more laissez-faire stance toward his ciphers, observing their indolence and enlightened attitudes from a dispassionate distance. Only once, when a character musters the courage to reach for another’s hand, does the film’s temperature rise, but even then, the sight of these two lifelong friends crossing a line shuns risk, inspiring nothing more from us than, well, a shrug.