Freeway: a dangerous object of desire
by Fabien Lemercier
- Johan Libéreau’s love for his customised car gets the better of him in Christophe Sahr’s original feature debut
French cinematic production very rarely, in fact almost never, focuses on the world of cars, despite it being an integral part of the American mythology of wide open spaces, as reflected for example in early 1970s cult films Two-Lane Blacktop by Monte Hellman and Vanishing Point by Richard Sarafian. Freeway (Voie rapide ), Christophe Sahr’s feature debut, released in French cinemas on August 8 by Epicentre Films, is therefore a curious film. Its main character is in love with his yellow customised Honda Civic and belongs to an informal car tuning club, but his obsession will soon get the better of him.
The film is set on the outskirts of Paris, in the middle of the most unglamorous council estates, where high-rise buildings are crammed together in the ambient greyness. Alex (Johan Libéreau) stacks shelves at the local supermarket, where his wife Rachel (Christa Theret) also works as a check-out girl. They are still young, but already they have a two-year-old daughter whom the rather terse Alex never looks after, at least not spontaneously. Instead he saves up all his enthusiasm for his car, that he polishes in his spare time, when he is not playing car racing video games, or driving around with his friend Max (Guillaume Saurel), a mechanic who shares his fascination for roaring motors, bodywork, wheel rims, and other bling car accessories. Alex's obsession leads him to a small group of car tuning initiates, and provides an unconscious outlet (an illusion of perfection, beauty, and wealth, combined with the exhilaration of speed and power) to his boring, meaningless life. His hobby causes friction with Rachel ("I’d like to go to the sea," discussion about the cost of petrol, "Me, going without my ride, you must be joking!”), and these arguments will only worsen after Alex runs over a man on the motorway one night and flees the scene, then tries to keep the traumatic episode a secret. Of course, he has to fix the damage done to his dear car, but he also starts to feel guilty and to spy on the dead man’s mother (Isabelle Candelier)…
Freeway may be peppered with great road scenes (laps, stunts), but it is also the insightful portrait of an impoverished working class (for whom going out means fast food and bowling) and of immature youth without any real ambitions. The cathartic event on the motorway not only gives Christophe Sahr’s film suspense, but it also allows him to examine how his main character, brilliantly played by Johan Libéreau, thinks. Despite a few minor defects, Freeway is a promising feature debut that deserves a special mention for its soundtrack (Martin Wheeler’s guitars and A Guiding Light by Smog as a theme tune) that contributes to this Sésame Films production’s original mood.
(Translated from French)