In 4 Days in France, a mesmerizing road movie by first-time director Jerome Reybaud, a young gay Parisian named Pierre (Pascal Cervo) packs his bags at dawn and leaves his sleeping lover, Paul (Arthur Igual). Departing the capital for a radically unstructured odyssey around a rural France enchantingly free of glam movie-Frenchiness, Pierre is guided by his Grindr app, with Paul in irritable pursuit behind him. Think of this less as a high concept premise than a tender and serious-minded joke that laces together Pierre's random encounters with strangers both male and female, whose often grumpy wisdom will bring him a diffuse enlightenment he doesn't yet know he needs.
Played by Cervo with an elusive solemnity that's comical and sad as needed, Pierre emerges as an iffy narrator of his own motives, though he catches on to his illusions early enough to toss a cherished manuscript out of his Alfa Romeo (sedan, not convertible) after saving it from the clutches of a girl thief. But Pierre's manners are gentlemanly, and he's gloriously open-minded even when flaming out as a sexual flaneur. There's a heap of carnal effort but not much completed action in 4 Days in France, one of whose subjects is an inquiry, at once goofy and endearingly earnest, into the delights and limitations of the hook-up. One of Pierre's few satisfying trysts, with a bumpkin Adonis who's very keen to get to Paris, is only erotic if you ignore the socks left on. Another less successful attempt to solicit oral sex brings out the philosopher in an older local. Once you actually start getting to know one another, he informs, it's all over for casual sex. They have a nice chat instead while the old gent helps with his godson's homework.
4 Days in France is no more a "gay movie" than it is a "road movie." Few if any of the plot points we'd expect from either actually come to pass, so if you see a sad man gazing down from a cliff top don't go expecting him to hurl himself off it. The film is better grasped as a disjointed saunter, with deep existential underpinnings, through a France that's not for the export market. The landscape through which Pierre and Paul travel is equal parts alpine splendor, seedy car dealerships and automat motels ("the f---ing Auvergne!" yells Paul in frustration as he hits his umpteenth blind alley).
Reybaud embraces it all while shunning conventional narrative. Yet there's a thread here, or more precisely shards of illumination from unexpected sources, most of them from slightly crazy but sage older women like Pierre's extravagantly over-the-top diva of an aunt (Judith Joubert), a wanderer all her life who urges him to embrace his adventures but to always look closely wherever he goes because, she warns sadly, "It's the last time."
In the country Pierre and Paul find, not the close-knit communities we fondly imagine to persist outside of our atomized big cities, but a fragmented world that nonetheless gifts them with moments of rough but sustaining communion and gallantry. C'est la vie, Reybaud implies, for pretty much all of us. By the end of their long and winding road we will know, after a fashion, why Pierre left Paul. And that this may not be what matters. At the end, after unloading a heartfelt story from his childhood, Paul turns to hear his lover's response, only to discover that he has fallen fast asleep at last.