Marion is a French girl in a seaside British town in Essex. She's doing a journalistic assignment to explain British attitudes toward Brexit, and she's brought along her more carefree friend Delphine. Delphine has a theory that you can explain Brexit by comparing English boys with French boys. She immediately tests out her theory by picking up two English boys, Harry and Callum, much to Marion's annoyance.
As they hang out, Marion is reluctant and surly with an awkward Callum, while Delphine has no problem hooking up with Harry. But as the more serious of their friends, Marion and Callum find a way to connect -- and what seems like a lighthearted dalliance might be something more for Marion.
Written and directed by Daniel Marc Janes, this romantic short balances a sense of nostalgia with an engagement of contemporary ideas, following two young French women as they go about the business of following their desires and figuring out the world around them and their roles in it. Taking its visual cue from the great films of the French New Wave, particularly of Eric Rohmer, the film -- shot on 16mm -- has a sunny, bleached-out look, taking advantage of its seaside location to evoke a sense of leisure and contemplation, where two young women can amble in search of adventure. But its tribute to the French New Wave is also reflected in its thematic terrain, in which the cerebral and political intersect with romance, with charming, fascinating results.
Broken down into timestamped moments, the narrative has an almost episodic, even improvisational feel, as Marion and Delphine seem to test out ideas about men, love and relationships and then put them into practice with the next passing opportunity. This is the work of being young, of course: figuring out who you are and what you want in a relationship, much less life. Delphine is more easygoing than Marion, who seems restless and dissatisfied, and their contrasting attitudes come out during their layered, beautifully written dialogue, which balances the cerebral with the carnal in a fresh yet earnest way.
When the pair encounter their British male counterparts, things get interesting as the differences broaden. Delphine and Harry have no problem with a casual fling, but Callum and Marion find it awkward. The entire cast is enjoyable to watch, but it's especially sweet to watch the more cautious half of the quartet -- played by actors Brian Vernel and Sarah Perahim -- connect with an honesty and authenticity that feels true to their characters. They both find a way into one another's arms in a way that works for them and allow themselves the promise and optimism of romance, despite their own misgivings and cynicism.
The first question of "Conte Anglais" may be about Brexit, but its final one is whether or not Marion and Callum's connection was just for a night, or perhaps something more, as Marion herself has to move beyond her head and feel what is in her heart. The answer to both questions, it turns out, ends up being more complex than thought -- and all the sweeter for it.