Paulot (Wadeck Stanczak) is a young estate agent in Paris going through just another day when a woman enters the offices. She is Nina (Juliette Binoche), an aspiring actress who has recently arrived in the capital from Toulouse and is running through the usual list of auditions, though she has secured the part of a maid in a theatrical farce which is providing her with a little income as she hopes for better. Paulot is immediately captivated by her, not least because she gives him a free ticket to the play, and when he cannot resist attending he is delighted to meet her backstage, even more so when she suggests they spend the rest of the evening together. An hour or two later, he wants to live with her for the foreseeable future...
Rendez-vous was the film that won director André Téchiné (who penned the script with soon to be cult moviemaker Olivier Assayas) the best director award at the Cannes Festival, and while that did his career no harm whatsoever, it was his leading lady Binoche who really received the attention thanks to a performance which ran the gamut of emotion and pointed to the presence of a newly minted star of French cinema for the nineteen-eighties. This was a busy decade for her as she established herself, often in roles that called for a hint of enigma, sometimes more than a hint, so while Nina starts out as an ingénue she quickly finds there's more to being an actress than showing up and speaking the lines.
Nope, according to this you had to make the experience far more meaningful than that, which meant not simply losing yourself in the part as written, but having a good, old-fashioned crisis of confidence into the bargain so you could truly inhabit your work having suffered for your art, the more the better. This may sound like a rather narrow view of the thespian profession, that the only way you are going to create valid performances is to put yourself through the mill of torrid emotions, after all there are plenty of actors and actresses who don't feel the need to do so and they have perfectly successful careers, but Téchiné obviously had something on his mind that he wished to convey.
To do so he moulded Binoche from the bright, girly stages Nina goes through at the beginning of the story to the tortured artiste she became at the end, leaving us hanging as to whether this newfound depth of feeling had indeed propelled her to fantastic heights as she played the female lead in Romeo and Juliet, or whether she had totally cracked up under the strain of carrying and delivering such potential for just those successes. Mind you, she was not alone in this turmoil as there was Paulot for a start, he was enduring his own turmoil as he wanted to go to bed with Nina but she wanted him as a friend and nothing more: this is even more frustrating for him when she has no qualms about shagging any other man who asks, suggesting a very male construct of a female character.
One man she agrees to indulge the lusts of is Quentin (Lambert Wilson), an intense young man who is wracked with guilt at causing the death of his girlfriend in a car crash when they were just about to put on a staging of, you guessed it, Romeo and Juliet. His actions towards Nina are nothing short of stalking, and he comes across like the kind of person she should have run a mile from so naturally in Téchiné's world he is the ideal channel for her to find her muse. If this is sounding artificial, that's how it was to watch, but there was a certain integrity in its seeking where the performing impulse comes from and what can fuel it, whether you're playing a comedy maid in a bit of fluff or tackling Shakespeare's classic, tragic heroine. Whether you would go as far as this did that true talent takes a breakdown, induced or otherwise, was a different matter, and indicated a stance that was both curiously precious and sadistically savage, as if the director wanted to beat a fine reading of his material out of Binoche - not literally, but by giving her this part to essay. Rendez-vous was an offputting experience, but she held it together and made it compelling, almost against your better judgement. Music by Philippe Sarde.