Viewed in cross-section in their perfectly his-and-her apartments, he makes coffee; she does her hair. Their lives are separate—until he steps outside to smoke, and she descends the stairs toward a fountain to fill a vase of flowers with water. Their eyes meet across the courtyard, they exchange one word—“Bonjour,” spoken forcefully, as though long-repressed—and then they retreat back into the silence of their independent existences. The day moves forward and mundane activities continue: Julien returns to his grand apartment, lit by the low glow of lamps, to read; Marie goes inside and puts on her nightclothes, and they retire before beginning it all over.
But the devil is in the details. Although their encounter is brief, it’s so loaded with longing and unconsummated desire that everything else seems like a mere preparation for it. With the utterance of that one word, all that happened before, and all that happens after, comes to fruition. The piece itself operates as a microcosmic study of performance—as a genre and as a mode of human life. Endless rehearsal and choreography, all to ready us for those fleeting seconds in which the curtains open and we face our audience.