When Lloyd Cole's '80s hit "Rattlesnakes" sounds, my past stink sits up in the memory bank. Then, when both Television and Kim Wilde are played, I'm stuck in an emotional mix of recognition and petty nostalgia for a period that never returns.
In this way, completely congenially groomed by director Mikhaël Hers who seems to like to look back – and create moving images of emotional forward movements. Dramas about leaving yesterday behind.
In the previous film, the fine grief-processing drama "Amanda," it's something as spectacular as an act of terror that allows the protagonist to take care of his dead sister's child. Here it is about a simple divorce that leaves Charlotte Gainsbourg's Elisabeth alone with two teenage children and an empty wallet. She surprisingly easily gets a job on a night radio show where she also meets young homeless Talulah, whom she lets slip under the wings of her maternal instincts.
"Passengers in the Night" moves from the beginning to the end of the decade of shoulder pads and is about relationship trouble and drugs — but further dramatically, it's not. Rather as a film adaptation of the expression "Jorå, it bangs and small crackles". Or in more film-savvy terms: as a wink to everyday dramatist Eric Rohmer. The story slips forward, crosses some not-too-high thresholds, and the end station is about where we thought it would.
Incidentally, it's not just the music that makes "Passengers in the Night" an '80s party. Hers cuts in documentary snippets from the time it started, sets the mood with indoor smoking, Mitterand and the World Cup – and Talulah is with her blackcoat style that came out of Susan Seidelman's Madonna-driven drama "Susan where are you?" (1985).
Charlotte Gainsbourg has a singular ability to sneak out his characters, when Charlotte whispers, you listen. It is her vivid portrait of a searching human being at the crossroads of life that gives the film its charter and power. And, not to forget, a swarming photo that makes one want to take a time-warping train to Paris.