Straight to DVD, at least in the U.S., Brief Crossing demonstrates that Catherine Breillat is perfectly capable of directing a conventional narrative. The poet laureate of teenage sex here revels in the hormone-addled tango of a shipboard romance between a diffident French adolescent (Gilles Guillain) and an oddly bitter Englishwoman at least twice his age (Sarah Pratt). He's just a bit clumsy; she's nervously talkative and full of hostile generalizations about male sexual attitudes. This gemlike comedy of manners, composed largely of long behavioral takes—including a textbook-level scene shot in the ship's bar—is a bracingly cynical addition to the current cycle of tadpolian romances. If Brief Crossing were Fat Girl, the movie would end with the boat hitting an iceberg. It's not. Still, Breillat has succeeded in cooking up a brief encounter so captivating that although plenty of evidence is strategically planted, one barely sees the punchline coming.

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