Review ‘Both sides of the blade’ (‘Avec amour et acharnement’)

Claire Denis’ brilliant action, moody, smart melodrama – premiering in Berlin with international title, Both sides of the tonguebut scheduled US release from IFC is Fire – begins with a passionate holiday prelude, with the central couple arm in arm at sea as the sweet melodic notes of Tindersticks’ soundtrack slip past them. The scene was so romantic that it was almost amazing. But Denis is a master director who always knows exactly what she’s doing. The ecstasy of the sets makes the raw, tearing volatility of later developments, as the past slashes through like a knife to tear apart the couple’s harmony, all the more powerful.

The film reunites Denis with co-writer Christine Angot and incandescent lead Juliette Binoche, her collaborators on Let the sunshine in. But that 2017 film’s intellectual, talkative romantic comedy is quite different with the powerful physical impact, sensuality, and palpable sadness of this complex new work, Adapted from the novel by Angot. The intensity of intimacy here is almost painful to witness, thanks to Binoche and her magnetic co-stars Vincent Lindon and Grégoire Colin.

Both sides of the tongue

Key point

A sneaky heart wrecker.

Location: Berlin Film Festival (Competition)
Cast: Juliette Binoche, Vincent Lindon, Grégoire Colin, Issa Perica, Bulle Ogier, Mati Diop
Manager: Claire Denis
Writer: Christine Angot, Claire Denis, adaptation of Angot’s novel, Un tournant de la vie

1 hour 56 minutes

Sara (Binoche) and Jean (Lindon) have been together for ten years, living together in an airy apartment overlooking the rooftops of Paris. She hosts the news program on Radio France Internationale, while he is slowly finding his footing after a decade in prison for an undisclosed crime. But Jean has always been steady and supportive, even as he struggles to find the time and needed attention of his mother Nelly (beloved screen veteran Bulle Ogier) in suburban Vitry, where he grew up. She has custody of Jean’s interracial son, Marcus (Issa Perica) from a previous marriage. The 15-year-old boy is floundering at school, in danger of being expelled, and siphoning cash from Nelly’s bank card.

One day, on her way to work, Sara experiences a feeling of emotion when she sees her ex-partner François (Colin) on a motorbike. They lived together when she first met Jean, a friend of François, and the three have been out of touch since the relationship reconfigured. Soon after that sighting, François approached Jean, a former rugby player, to work with him as a talent scout at a new sports agency. Jean is wary but intrigued by the career opportunity, though he remains evasive about details with Sara, much to her fear. “I was a former footballer, now I am an ex,” he told her, indicating how much he needed the job.

The ever-changing interpersonal dynamics are conveyed with flexible tonal modulation by a director with complete control over her material. Thoughtful notes crept into the score, and cinematographer Eric Gautier’s pristine big-screen work became more jagged and agitated as communication between Sara and Jean began to falter.

Sara was nervous about attending the sports agency grand opening, worried about seeing François again after so many years. When the former lovers meet, their relationship is immediately rekindled, leading to a heated confrontation in which Jean threatens to walk away.

On a strong chain after he fearlessly turn in Titane, Lindon excels in these scenes, Jean’s fury spilling over into his impatience when dealing with Marcus. Elsewhere, the actor counters his hyper-masculine physique in a performance more notable for its tenderness.

Binoche is stubborn as Sara turns defensive, denying to Jean, and perhaps to herself, that the violation is taking place, but effectively plays both sides as her rejection of François’ advances becomes so less convincing and her desires controlled. The psychologically astute script always treats her with compassion, not judgment. The evidence in her face that she knew she should withdraw but couldn’t – or perhaps simply didn’t want to – was quite influential. Even her body language changes, becoming fluid and feminine around François.

The latter is less developed than the two principals, but Denis’s longtime collaborator Colin invests him in both charm and manipulative calculation, his claims to Sara do not pose a problem. troubled by loyalty to Jean. François is destruction with a smile. Whether there’s an element of revenge in his pursuit of Sara remains unclear.

Meanwhile, the easy, tactile way that Sara and Jean previously navigated each other in their apartment – even after returning from the shore, they couldn’t keep their hands off each other – became cooler. , more cautious when a suspicious distance begins to separate them. . However, it is an all-too-rare pleasure to see sex involving the middle-aged body captured with such unconscious spontaneity and grace.

Angot and Denis’s script has few extraneous details, especially about the characters’ pasts, even acknowledging the contemporary pandemic time frame in the quietest way possible when Sara and Jean fall in love. Change flags and remove their transparency mask .

This is a relatively simple film for Denis, not complicated Let the sunshine in. But her writing and laser-focused direction capture the emotions of the characters in the haunting final scenes enhanced by Gautier’s camera close-ups of them with exploratory precision. . The feeling of broken love and life being thrown into chaos as a silent past is violently broken on the surface of unexpected movements, all the more so because the film rigorously rejects affection. . Considering that it begins with intentional toy images with schmaltz, the heavy blow of the conclusion is quietly devastating.

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