Directed by Michel Blanc, starring Daniel Auteuil, Stuart Townsend & Liz Walker.

A midlife crisis is the launch pad for Michel Blanc's study of loneliness and lost time in swinging London. Pierre (Auteuil) is the French academic who walks away from his marriage and 'escapes' to the city in the hope of writing a book, only to find he has nothing worth saying. Following a vicious assault, he is saved from his bedsit and bourbon existence by Tom (Townsend), a wealthy young Irishman, fascinated by Pierre's scholarly background and his desire to start again. He offers Pierre a job in his sandwich shop and an unlikely friendship forms between the two. But the shop isn't Tom's only source of income: he also works as a male escort and, with the minimum of convincing, Pierre signs up with the agency.

'The Escort' plays like 'Midnight Cowboy' for café society, as a bemused Auteuil lives one life, tries to forget another and wanders through the fairground of his own mind in the process ("I chose the wrong life," he tells Townsend, "a life without risk, a life without fun"). The film candidly follows the Frenchman from the giddy rush of his first assignment through an endless succession of train station rendezvous and his subsequent decline into the clock watching of just another job. But when Auteuil falls for another escort (Walker) in the second half of the film, Blanc loses grip of the plot and its humour, neglecting the far more interesting relationship with Townsend (perfect as the live-in-the now wide boy) and opting for po-faced domestic dynamics instead. Storylines are left hanging as Blanc, labouring under the pretence that he's now charging people by the hour, tries to roll three plots into one without satisfying the viewer with any of them. He redeems himself somewhat with a cheeky ending (which lends weight to the theory that people make the same mistakes all their lives), but just like an encounter with someone from the personal columns, 'The Escort' is never quite lives up to expectations.

Harry Guerin