Avec amour et acharnement – Binoche and Lindon at the new Claire Denis film (Berlinale review)
Sara and Jean have been in a loving, stable relationship for ten years. They are happy. He is her rock, someone she can hold on to. When they first met, Sara was in a relationship with François, Jean’s best friend. One day, Sara sees François on the street. He does not see her, but she is overwhelmed by a sensation that her life could suddenly change. François does indeed get in touch with Jean to suggest that they work together again. Before long, things are in danger of spiralling out of control.
Avec amour et acharnement is Claire Denis’s third collaboration with acclaimed writer Christine Angot, with whom she wrote Un beau soleil intérieur, which also starred Juliette Binoche. The director is shooting the film mid pandemic, without trying to hide the current situation, with the actors wearing masks in certain occations but with the pandemic in the background and with no real role in the whole story, a new type of normality, with films shot just coinciding with the new status quo, but not being obsessed with it, exploring the whatever stories are parallel to it. Denis handles with care her two leads, two of France’s most decorated actors, and they give, as usual memorable performances. Their chemistry on the opening sequences of the film really make the viewer believe that this is the perfect loving couple.
During the film we will see the different sides of the relationship, with Sara’s past toxic relationship with Francois hunting and ultimately undermining her current one. The escalation of the conflict among the two leads is gradual, but leads to a scene of explosion with Sara facing finally Francois’s manipulations once again. This is the part of the film that works as the lovers dynamics are shown on it’s all extent, from the awkward mentioning of the name of Francois, to the complaints about communication, and from there to jealousy and the self-doubt. The problem is though, that in her try to accurately depict the effects of a toxic relationship for Sara, the film builds up a mystery that never seems resolved, leaving open threads here and there. We learn for example that Jean was in prison, without never again learning the reason while that seems from the dialog some really important part of the history of the relationships of the love triangle. Some missing huge implication is never really revealed or perhaps never existed.
Moreover we never really learn anything about Sara and her family except her previous relationship with Francois, while the film spends generous time with Jean and his young mixed race kid. The loose connection to the story with a comment on racism in France in Sara’s radio show, seems a messy plot connection, with the relationship of Jean with his family being not explored, as it is not really part of the film, but of a long subplot that should have probably been a separate film.