Jonathan White’s review published on Letterboxd:
TIFF 2017 film #18
Reason for pick - Our LB friend Len really liked Mélanie Laurent’s previous feature, Breathe
Mild spoilers about the essence of the three acts,but not details. Bail if you’re someone like me. Stay if you want to see if the themes explored are of interest.
Director Mélanie Laurent has accomplished a phenomenal amount in her scant 34 years; acting in over 40 roles, directing 3 feature films, with a fourth in post, plus a handful of shorts. She learned English for her starring role in Tarantino's Inglorious Bastards. All this, and becoming a new mother only a few years ago. This woman is driven. I could feel her confidence exude from the stage during the Q&A after the presentation.
It makes complete sense that she would choose to adapt Christophe Ono-dit-Biot’s novel about a free spirit woman who is ensnared by love, and slowly suffocated.
I didn’t like each of the 3 acts for different reasons, but somehow they came together as a whole. I spent a lot of time in the last twenty four hours thinking about what I thought at the time, and what I thought a day later. Part of this process was simply reflection on the film, and part of it was exploring Mélanie Laurent’s accomplishments, and what she had to say in the Q&A.
The first act, where in the first scene we meet César ( a former war correspondent ) and Paz ( a photographer ) fucking in the front seat of a car kind of put me off. There have been a spate of recent films where lovemaking has been used as an introduction to love, and I consider it a lazy device. As the first act played out, we had a lot of ‘I love you’s’ thrown out. I was pretty unaffected. Upson reappraisal, I think this is exactly what Laurent wanted me to feel. Sex for sex sake, and the pure visceral enjoyment of it, but not necessarily connecting intimacy to love. If I watch again, I bet I’ll see infatuation of a conquest of a younger lover on César’ face, and simply the thrill of a conquest of a storied journalist on Paz’s.
The second act, where Paz, now that she and César are married, is despondent because she feels she has lost her ideas, lost her freedom, and essentially lost her life. While watching, her self absorbed whining recalled what I hate about French New Wave. She’s a mother now, it’s time to take responsibility. Upon reflection, though, she was trapped into being a mother. Of course she had a choice, but it was a fine line between selfishness and selflessness, and she simply made the wrong choice.
In the third act, the film pivots. It now appears to be a Liam Neeson actioner. While I usually don’t enjoy these types of films, it seemed like mana after my recoil from the self affected self indulgent second act. Yet, it seemed empty by comparison, and tonally incoherent. Upon reflection, I think this is also what Laurent intended. Paz’s life has always been rich with passion, as we saw in the second act, and when the passion is robbed, she wilts. César’s, on the other hand, has always been deliberate and calculated, and the third act depicts him in his simplicity.
After the Q&A was closed, a radical audience member shouted out some statement or question that I couldn’t decipher about cohabitation. Laurent responded that men and women shouldn’t live together. The audience laughed. The then re-asserted … several times … that she wasn’t joking, and that even though she’s a new mom, that’s how she lives. At that moment I realized that maybe she was Paz, and maybe that over the top sorrow about being suppressed is genuinely her.
The film completely made sense to me then.