The front door latch is open, the window can be slid, the engine is off and yet Louise (Marina Foïs) can’t get out of her car. As soon as she crosses her legs on the other side of the step, she finds herself hyperventilating, on the verge of asphyxiation, victim of a panic attack. After a few failed attempts, this fifty-year-old nurse, employed in a Burgundian hospital, decides not to force things by remaining glued to the front seat. Very quickly, he does not have enough gas left to find peace on the surrounding roads.

A first practical problem arises: how to refuel when you are in a state close to a hikikomori (those teenagers who no longer leave their homes)? Chance puts Paul (Benjamin Voisin), a young thug with a gun, in his path: he steals his car stranded in a gas station. Failing to get Louise out, the boy is forced to kidnap her and travel with her, which amounts to finding solutions so that she can eat, wash, change and go to the bathroom without setting foot outside. His goal: to seek revenge on a man in Cap-Ferret, in the Southwest.

Initially, we enter Didier Barcelo’s film with the fear of undergoing a series of humorous sketches played out at a Stakhanovite pace around a question of good manners: how to spend several days in a car without ever getting out? We think of the funny pitch of On a perched tree (1971), by Serge Korber, who had cornered Louis de Funès and two hitchhikers in a convertible car perched on an umbrella pine after an accident.

But past the first gags which all the same have the merit of sketching out an almost probable relationship between the two protagonists, we find ourselves faced with a conceptual curiosity in the genre of Rubber (2010), Quentin’s first feature film Dupieux following the trail of a killer tire. With the difference that Freewheel never completely ventures into nonsense.

Traveling therapy

Before getting stuck in her Volvo, Louise was brutalized in nights on call, left her house in her pajamas, called her son in Australia while getting tangled up in the jet lag and systematically parked her car where it was. prohibited. Over the miles, this moving camera will build, in a metaphorical form, the sensitive portrait of a woman who no longer knows where she is and has no other way but to let herself be guided. Zigzagging between comedy and psychological drama, the journey to the Arcachon basin is gradually transformed into itinerant therapy which illustrates both Louise’s disarray and that of Paul, on a road which multiplies the bends and horizon lines, able to make the most stoic of us dizzy.

Coming from advertising, Didier Barcelo did not choose a Clio but a mustard yellow station wagon that has a mouthful and preferred desert roads to crowded highways that recall the American expanses as far as the eye can see. Without the social chronicle, this road movie does not escape the glamorama of the genre. It is in these landscapes larger than France that he manages to build a friendship between Louise and Paul, whose meeting escapes a programmatic approach of what the mutual discovery of two people who have nothing in common can be. . Freewheel relies on the time of the schoolchildren’s path and lets itself be embarked on the diagonal of the void.

Initial questions are quickly dismissed in favor of a more powerful motive: how can this car make them happy? Without going so far as to earn a life of its own as in a David Cronenberg film, the Volvo participates with a certain tenderness in the strengthening of the bond between Louise and Paul. Like a reed, it bends to circumstances, transforming itself slightly into a picnic area, a dormitory, a room with a view of the sea, a concert by Véronique Sanson, and even a therapist’s couch (amazing Jean-Charles Clichet who plays the scapegoats and watches his life go by with a deceptively calm air).

However, the film does not abuse the secondary characters crossed on the road which often serve to renew a plot that is falling apart. Magnetized to his heroes, he even has fun sending newcomers out of the car which, whatever station wagon it is, only has room for two.