How much explicit gay sex would be reasonable to expect in a French drama bout Grindr? My answer going into 4 Days in France was “a lot,” which is likely a significant factor in why the film underwhelmed me. This is far from the dramatic-cruising exploits of Stranger by the Lake, although just as gravely serious in tone. For all the film’s fragrant Grindr-scrolling & amusement with filthy bathroom graffiti, 4 Days in France is relatively tame in its depiction of same-sex hookups, which feels disingenuous to its basic conceit. I’m not saying the movie was obligated to function as a gay porno, or even an extensive exercise in titillation, but it’s certainly reasonable to expect more sex in a movie about a seedy sex app.
A young, affluent man films his sleeping lover’s body before hitting the early morning road without saying a word (cue Fastball’s “The Way”). Armed only with a small car & the aforementioned Grindr app, he aimlessly wanders through provincial France for the following four days, racking up a series of melancholy Life Experiences. His worried partner tracks him through Grindr by pretending to be a stranger looking for a hookup. Their paths do eventually cross, but in the meantime a series of lowkey interactions with hitchhikers, small town nobodies, and potential sex partners steers his daily wanderings. There is some sex indulged in and life lessons learned long the way, but nothing too significant on either count. As with a lot of French drams, the story told is mostly just aimless & sad.
There are isolated details of 4 Days in France that work well enough in their own allotted time: the line “France is full of men, full of possibilities,” is admirably succinct as a kind of mission statement; there’s a gorgeous exterior tracking shot outside a retirement home that impresses as an exercise in craft; the humor about raunchy bathroom graffiti & the comically complex driving instructions necessary to facilitate provincial hookups land with full impact, and so on. At 140min in length, though, I’m not convinced those details are enough to make the ordeal worthwhile. 4 Days in France could likely be edited down to a satisfying enough 100min picture, but its aimless meandering is too numbing at its current length. This is a picture about anonymity, melancholy, and ennui, which aren’t exactly visually compelling subjects on their own merit. Maybe it’s simple-minded of me to posit that, because the plot is driven by a series of Grindr hookups, a More Explicit Gay Sex edict is the adrenaline shot the film needed to feel alive & worth the effort. Either way, it was certainly missing something and more gay sex in this movie about a gay sex app might’ve been worth a shot.