Since all good things come in two apparently, I had to follow the trend of seeing two films by lead actresses at Cinemania and saw my second film with Kristin Scott Thomas in a starring role. And, as usually is with a film she is in, I was not disappointed.
It is rare lately that I see a film that has me all wrapped up in an inner discussion with myself afterwards. On the surface this was just another film about infidelity (a favourite subject in French films), but underneath it all it was a film that really made me question some choices and assumptions I have made in my life. It had me thinking about what love is and can you distinguish it from lust, how can you be going along merrily in your life and then meet someone and want to change everything damn the consequences or be bitterly unhappy, who did I feel sorry for in the film – the husband or Suzanne and the way that films tend to portray women when they are the ones committing the adultery. Plenty of stuff rushing around my little brain.
Well-to-do, middle aged, stay-at-home mother and wife Suzanne (Kristin Scott Thomas – Random Hearts, Nowhere Boy) has decided now that her two children are teenagers that she is going to go back to work as a physiotherapist. She decides to open her own office right on the property where she lives in a small stone building that has been used to store junk.
Her husband Samuel (Yvan Attal – Munich, The Interpreter) begrudging agrees to hire someone to do the renovations and then proceeds to, despite the fact that he is a well off doctor, nickel and dime the guy. Because of this cheapness the contractor Rémi (Bernard Blancan – Indigènes) can only hire one man to do the job.
Spanish handy man Ivan (Sergi Lopez – Dirty Pretty Things, Pan's Labyrinth) starts working and partially because she feels bad for him and partially because she is eager to get the work done, Suzanne pitches in to help him. He seems impressed that this upper class lady does not mind getting her hands dirty.
A moment of inattention on Suzanne's part leads to Ivan seriously injuring his leg. When he awakens in the hospital he insists that he has to leave. Ivan wants to go see his daughter in Spain who he has not seen in a year.
Not about to let him go on his own with his badly injured leg, Suzanne agrees to drive him. Unexpectedly they have to spend the night in this small Spanish town. After having dinner together and some nice conversation, on the way back to the car Ivan tries to kiss Suzanne, but she pulls away.
Despite the fact that Ivan can no longer work on the renovations due to his injury Suzanne cannot stop thinking of him. Distracted and disturbed she decides to go see him at his apartment. Even though she initially walked away from him when he tried to kiss her the attraction she feels is obvious. Without regard to the consequences Suzanne embarks on a passionate affair with Ivan. This affair, which she tells Samuel about, brings about the destruction of several lives.
Even though she has lied and cheated you don't hate Suzanne. You understand from the beginning that the way she feels about Ivan is beyond her control. Scott Thomas does a marvelous job as this women who has fallen so quickly and deeply that she is not able to control herself. She subtly lets us see through her expressions and body language how unsure Suzanne is about the path she has embarked on. Is it love or just lust? Has she just awoken to the fact that she cannot stand her life and will do anything to get out of it? Is this just a so-called mid-life crisis? Her role is challenging as you want to not like this selfish woman, but somehow you empathize with her and even support her decision.
Director Catherine Corsini (Les Ambitieux) shows her depth touch with this sometimes tricky story. The message about civil law and how much a woman who has remained in a marriage, but hasn't worked is owed is quite clear. Economic independence or a lack of it makes up a central part of the story, but Corsini's film is in essence a thriller. The film starts with a vague bang (literally) in the present time and then proceeds to go back six months to show you everything leading up to that moment.
The film also does not attempt to give excuses for Suzanne's behaviour. Yes, the passion has gone out of her marriage and it is a little boring, but that is not the reason she has the affair. Suzanne has just suddenly and violently, you could say, fallen in love. All three of the characters in the love triangle are selfish, unsure, vulnerable, and makes bad decisions. The realism is palpable. We all know people like this. Flawed and human. Painful for those involved yet beautiful for us to watch.