The queer French road movie 4 Days In France features three main characters. There’s Pierre (Pascal Cervo), a diminutive, soft-spoken guy in his 40s who’s apparently had enough, though it’s never made clear exactly why he gets into his white Alfa Romeo at the beginning of the film and just starts driving, with no destination in mind. There’s Paul (Arthur Igual), Pierre’s impressively mustachioed live-in boyfriend, who waits around in confusion for 24 hours before renting a cheap Volvo and setting out in pursuit. And then there’s Grindr, the gay networking app, which Pierre employs throughout the film as a means of finding strange men to screw and/or beds for the night, and which Paul uses to monitor Pierre’s ever-shifting location. Grindr’s distinctive notification alert becomes a running aural joke, and the turning point of Paul’s parallel storyline arrives when he recognizes Pierre’s penis among the dozens of dick pics he’s receiving.
What makes 4 Days In France special, though, is that it’s far more expansive than its basic premise would suggest. Pierre and Paul remain separated, with zero direct contact, for most of the film’s nearly two-and-a-half hours; while their relationship is the narrative’s beating heart, writer-director Jérôme Reybaud is more interested in exploring veins and arteries. Over the course of Pierre’s journey across France, which eventually leads him to the Italian border, he encounters a broad, eccentric cross-section of the population, taking each person in stride. A traveling salesman asks to drive the Alfa Romeo and waxes philosophical about the way that a well-engineered car hugs the road. A young woman swipes Pierre’s bag in a parking lot and defends her action when confronted, as if stealing were a legitimate enterprise and the best a victim can hope for is fair negotiation with the thief. Pierre and Paul unwittingly pick up the same inadvertent hitchhiker, an elderly lady who doesn’t care for either of them.
Each of these minor characters creates a vivid impression, and Reybaud makes a point of briefly returning to most of them later, even though the story in no way demands any additional knowledge about what they’re doing. It’s his way of insisting that they’re no less important than the ostensible leads—which, in a roundabout way, underlines the essential dignity of Pierre and Paul. This isn’t remotely a message movie, but it does offer occasional reminders of intolerance, as when a local woman, angry that gay men regularly hook up near her house, tells Pierre that he and his kind “pollute nature.” Never less than polite, Pierre chooses not to reply, but 4 Days In France itself serves as an eloquent rebuttal to that charge, and does so without a hint of dreary moralizing. One might argue that this picaresque portrait of a nation, as viewed through marginalized eyes, didn’t necessarily need to be even longer than Avengers: Age Of Ultron. (The third and fourth days could probably have been combined.) But there’s always someone new and fascinating around the next bend, often heralded by the sound of Grindr’s broken-guitar-string chirrup.