Oh to be French, wealthy and sad.
Sara (Juliette Binoche) and Jean (Vincent Lindon) have an ideal relationship. While cozying up in an ideal Parisian apartment and cooking fancy food, old flame François (an underutilized Grégoire Colin) arrives to offer Jean work stemming from his athletic glory days. But Sara is François’ former lover, unable to resist the temptation he offers. People get mad at each other, etc.
There’s certainly a Binoche fandom that’ll feel content in director/writer Claire Denis’ newest venture. It’s a Binoche movie, mind you, and damn if it ain’t going for the César. Yet all of Denis’ films move in a similar manner, where characters speak like a freshman philosophy term paper grew a mouth. Everything here is very French—like the kind of folks who make love rather than have sex, and shriek, “My lover! My lover!” as the deed is done. This is not a dig at French sensibilities, but rather to point out the insufferable nature of dissatisfied middle class people, perhaps the single unifying factor of Western civilization. Both Sides, then, has good ideas, namely, how human beings cannot escape what they left behind with a make-believe material reality.
But the problems don’t come from its good ideas. This is a dreadfully boring film, where terrible people mistreat each other, which is then presented to viewers as “truth.” Who cares? We’ve seen Binoche sob over a post-middle-aged old man multiple times in her career.
Denis does, however, offer smart directorial choices—and the romanticizing of middle-aged bodies is a much-needed contrast to youth-obsessed cinema. Denis knows precisely what to emphasize in the frame, but it seems she can never find an urgency with her storytelling and, thus, inadvertently proclaims the whole venture pointless. Both Sides is more an acting reel than a film, and a worthy one at that. But it’s worth noting how everyone here has done better work. Contact your local French cinema diehard for proof.
Both Sides of the Blade
Directed by Denis
With Binoche, Lindon and Colin
Center for Contemporary Arts, NR, 116 min.