Thomas (Gilles Guillain), a good-looking, 16-year-old French boy, races to catch a ferry from La Havre to Portsmouth. The clerk allows him on, despite the fact that his papers are in disarray. In the ship's cafeteria he meets Alice (Sarah Pratt), a much older British woman.
Speaking English, she invites him to sit with her in the crowded dining room, and asks his name. He tells her, then eats silently. She seems to study him intently. Mine's Alice, if you're interested, she says after a few uncomfortable moments. He's embarrassed, but still says little. She stares at him, and eventually, he returns her stare.
Then, he lights a cigarette. I should quit, he says. As he struggles with his English, explaining why he smokes, she tells him she speaks French, and the conversation becomes a bit easier. A sexual attraction is clearly building between them as he asks her to the bar for a drink. Eventually, Thomas learns more about Alice.
She's recently separated from her husband, she explains. She seems depressed. Life is interminable and boring, but it goes by fast, she warns him. He suggests they take advantage of their night on the ship to engage in a little bit of romance. She scoffs at the young people on the dance floor and he distances himself from them.
They watch a magician perform his cheesy act. She complains at length about the way men treat women, but maybe Thomas is different?
Brief Crossing, written and directed by Catherine Breillat (Romance), was produced as part of a series of ten French films under the heading, Masculin/Feminin. The film was shown at Lincoln Center in New York as part of their 2003 Film Comment Selects series.