It would be possible to approach Orly without first mentioning the way Angela Schanelec wrote and shot it, but since there's ultimately no getting around it, here we go. Quite simply (though I'd bet it was anything but simple), Schanelec's cast and crew entered France's busiest airport, positioned the actors, placed the camera a considerable distance away from them and got to work.
You can see a three-minute Arte report on the shoot from last April, and though there are no subtitles, you won't need them to appreciate the challenge of accepting given lighting conditions, aural ambience and thousands of milling travelers as "extras." As Schanelec explains in a seven-minute video interview conducted by Felix von Boehm and Julian von Lucius for Cine-Fils (and this one does have English subtitles), she allowed Orly's varied spaces to reshape what are essentially four storylines focussing on two people each, their interaction in a zone between home and somewhere else, between lives lived in one place and another but ostensibly put on hold here, if only for an hour or two.
It's in this zone that the waiting cracks us open, and we have little else to do but peer inside and take stock. The film's first surprise is that it actually begins outside the airport. A woman (Maren Eggert) walks alone through the streets of Paris; a man, Theo (Josse de Pauw), in an apartment calls a woman to tell her he doesn't understand why she's left.
Once we enter the airport, though Schanelec cuts between the four strands, the emphasis shifts from one to the next. Juliette (Natacha Régnier), flustered by her own absent-mindedness (she's "forgotten" her wedding ring at her mother's place, then her coat in another waiting area), may or may not be flirting with Vincent (Bruno Todeschini). She may not know herself. Both are French, both live abroad, and while both sense that France is home, only one has decided to return. A mother (Mireille Perrier) and son (Emile Berling) wait to board a flight that will take them to the funeral of her ex-husband, his father. She tells a secret. So does he. His tops hers. And while the narrative drive is kept in a low gear throughout the film, we move from this most dramatic revelation to the strand in which the least happens. A young couple (Jirka Zett and Lina Phyllis Falkner) on holiday sorts through photos and surreptitiously snaps another.
While it's hardly a surprise that Variety's Derek Elley has dumped on Orly or that Screen's Dan Fainaru maintains neutrality ("Her fans will appreciate the work's precision and visual approach, while her numerous detractors are bound to point to Orly's dramatic shortcomings. They both may have a point but what's certain is that, like Shanelec's previous work (Marseille, Afternoon), Orly is looking at a future niche art house distribution and festival sidebars"), Robert Koehler's disappointment is bewildering: "Orly isn't much more in the end than a chain of slight scenes between people who never grow more interesting as time goes on, just more banal (maybe like a lot of fellow airplane travelers)."
The full original title is Orly, Poem 1-4. Whether or not the characters are banal (and I don't believe they are) or occasionally say banal things (don't we all), they and the things they say are, to play on the analogy suggested by that original title, words and phrases within an overall structure. So, too, is the intelligent camerawork by Reinhold Vorschneider. And the two texts that are read, one onscreen, the other off. And the photographs in the apartment where Theo's made that call, mementos alongside a cover for a single, "Love Will Tear Us Apart."
Many have noted the leave-taking in Orly. The funeral, Sabine's leaving Theo, the life-changing decisions. In his interview with Schanelec for die taz, Ekkehard Knörer asks her about the ending in which the entire airport is evacuated. "Yes, it's true," she says, "everything moves toward emptiness." In Der Tagesspiegel, Christina Tilmann wonders out loud if Orly may have been shaped by the loss in 2008 of Schanelec's partner, theater director Jürgen Gosch. An open question. In the end, as Sabine evacuates the airport along with everyone else, she finds herself paired again — with a stranger. Sabine asks a question. The stranger doesn't respond. The Germans have a saying: Keine Antwort ist auch eine Antwort. No answer is also an answer.