One last chance to see The Passengers of the Night at MIFF tonight

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The Passengers of the Night (Les Passagers de la Nuit) is a film from Mikhaël Hers. It’s been doing the film festival circuits and is currently screening at the Melbourne International Film Festival (as well as streaming on its online platform MIFF Play). It also screened at the Sydney Film Festival recently.

The Passengers of the Night

The Passengers of the Night takes place over 3 distinct years: starting in 1981 on the night of Mitterand’s election win, moving later to 1984 and then later again to 1988.


The film starts on the night of Francois Mitterand’s 1981 election win with people celebrating in the streets of Paris. We see a young girl with a rucksack on her back alone in the metro station as trains fly by. We also see Charlotte Gainsbourg driving a car with her teenaged son, Matthias played by Quito Rayon-Richter (who has also been in Dark Hart of the Forest (Le Coeur noir des forets), and daughter Judith played by Megan Northam, through the celebratory crowds. Back at their apartment, Charlotte Gainsbourg’s character Élisabeth listens to the late-night radio as she looks out the window at the surrounding large apartment and office buildings. The radio host welcomes her “passagers de la nuit” (passengers of the night).


We then skip ahead to 1984 where we see two boys racing each other on their bikes. One is Élisabeth’s son, Matthias who has been more and more absent at school even when he is there. Élisabeth is struggling financially, telling her Dad she needs to find a job. He unhelpfully tells her “you’ve never had one”. The odds are seemingly against this single mother whose ex has run off to move in with his mistress.

Vanda and Élisabeth Les Passagers de la nuit
Vanda and Élisabeth


It is here that Vanda (played by Emmanuelle Béart), host of the same late-night radio show that Élisabeth was listening to 3 years earlier, comes in. After reading her heart-felt and frank letter, Vanda gives Élisabeth a chance offering her a trial job fielding people on the phone line who will share their stories on air. In turn, Élisabeth offers Talulah played by Noée Abita (who was nominated for the Most Promising Actress César for the AFFFF 20222 film Slalom), a teenager living on the streets of Paris (the same girl we saw in the metro station in the opening scene) a place to stay.


While at first Élisabeth’s teenaged children are sceptical about their mother taking this girl in – wondering how she could even know such a person – they soon begin to form a bond with Talulah and take her under their wings. The scene where Matthias and his friend encounter Talulah for the first time is particularly amusing. But Talulah’s issues start to creep up, and this sudden closeness feel uncomfortable for her. She feels lost, telling Élisabeth “j’appartiens à nulle part” (I don’t belong anywhere), and suddenly, from night to morning Talulah disappears.

Matthias and Talulah


The Passengers of the Night is interspersed with archival footage of late 70s and early 80s Paris, with images of the former metro trains. These images can be distinguished by the frame change as well as their grainy quality. Combined with the soundtrack perfectly curated to the 80s, we are transported to 80s Paris.


Charlotte Gainsbourg is impressive as struggling single mother, breast cancer survivor Élisabeth. Equally impressive is Noée Abita as Talulah. Seeing her in this role makes us want to see her other films. Quito Rayon-Richter as the distracted, hormone-driven Matthias is also worthy of mention. Megan Northam doesn’t appear on screen as much as her brother’s character but we would also like to see more of her.


Perhaps at its core, The Passengers of the Night is about giving people a chance. A film showing the reality of life as a single mother with teenaged kids; those same young adults also learn to give Talulah a chance, just as their mother did.


Matilda Marseillaise watched a digital screener of The Passengers of the Night (Les Passagers de la Nuit) for the purposes of this review.


There is one screening of The Passengers of the Night remaining: tonight at 6:30pm. It is also available to rent digitally via the MIFF Play platform. Access for both the in cinema screening and the digital rental via this link.



MIFF Play – films in French

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