By Owen Gleiberman
Updated June 20, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT
Jet Lag: Emile de la Hosserave

It takes a very deft actress to portray unhappiness without telegraphing it. In Jet Lag, Juliette Binoche and Jean Reno meet cute in Charles de Gaulle Airport (after dropping her cell phone down the toilet, she asks to borrow his), but there’s nothing whimsical about the trembly, understated melancholy of Binoche’s performance. As Rose, a Paris beautician who is making a halfhearted attempt to flee a 12-year dysfunctional relationship, she’s desperate but quietly so, with fearful wide eyes that seem to take everything in; it’s as if anxiety had made her antennae too responsive. Binoche has always been a dazzling camera subject, but in ”Jet Lag” she’s so lovely she’s heartbreaking, like a wistfully neurotic Audrey Hepburn.

The movie, which is 81 minutes long, takes place largely in a Hilton hotel room, which the two stranded characters end up sharing due to an air-traffic controllers’ strike. Reno’s Félix is a former chef who made the mistake of giving up the career he loved to run a globalized frozen-food company. He appears to be a nice guy, and early on he gallantly rescues Rose from her cad of a boyfriend (Sergi Lopez) when she’s too sheepish to stand up to the jerk herself. But Félix is also a bit of a fussbudget, with snobby airs and a control-freak temperament that lead him to engage in annoying foodie lectures. The very softness that attracts him to Rose can’t help but bring out the scold in him.

The two subject each other to instant pop psychoanalysis (she: ”Did it ever occur to you that the duck in orange sauce locked in a plastic bag might be you?”), and before long they figure out what the audience already knows: that they got stuck together because they were drawn together. ”Jet Lag” may be the teensiest of trifles (I’d call it the romantic equivalent of a croissant if croissants had one third the calories), yet the movie is worth seeing if only for the marvelously lived-in faces of Binoche and Reno. It’s a pleasure to encounter a confectionary love story in which a man and woman of age and experience discover feelings that youth, more and more, has a patent on in Hollywood.