We have all lost someone we cared about. What we can console ourselves with is the fact that we know what happened to them. Can you imagine what you would feel if someone you loved, shared your life with and had kids with just up and disappeared in the middle of the night? Never knowing if they were alive or dead or if they just up and left you. Horrifying! That is exactly what the lead character in Jalil Lespert’s film is going through.
Paul (Benoit Magimel – The Piano Teacher, The Children of the Century) has been married to Sarah (Audrey Tautou – Amelie, The Da Vinci Code) for ten years. He is a writer and she is a doctor. They have two children, a boy and a girl. Sarah is at the end of her rope as she feels that Paul is not contributing to the household. She works at the hospital while he just stays home and writes. Paul does most of his writing late at night so is not happy when Sarah asks him to help her get the kids to school in the morning. After a fight over breakfast one morning she tells him that she has had ten years of this and cannot take it anymore.
Later that evening as Paul is writing he realizes that it is after two in the morning and Sarah is still not home. He calls the hospital but is told that she is not there. Despite the late hour, Paul calls the house of a friend of Sarah’s. She is not there either. He is now a mix of anger (is Sarah having an affair?) and fear (maybe she is hurt).
We fast forward to a time in the near future and it is obvious that Sarah has not returned. Paul is a mess emotionally and is having trouble being a good father to his children. Running out of money, he decides to move back to his home town of Saint-Malo to work as an instructor at his brother’s (Antoine Duléry – Camping) driving school.
Despite all his best intentions to put his life in order Paul is failing miserably. He finds himself constantly thinking of Sarah, who the police still haven’t found. During his second driving lesson with the much younger Justine (Marie-Ange Casta) he ends up sleeping with her. Almost forcing himself on her. He finds himself covering for a former convict (Ramzy Bedia), who has kidnapped his own son. Plus there is someone who is constantly phoning the house only to say nothing then hang up. Paul is still a mess and he is not able to write. Loose ends, unknowns and threats. This is no idyllic life by the seaside.
Throughout the film you push to the back of your mind that Paul’s wife Sarah has gone without a trace. You try to live in the moment and hope that Paul can do the same for his kid’s sake. Despite my best intentions there was a black cloud above my head throughout the entire film. I never felt “safe” for Paul and his kids and was waiting for the other shoe to drop. This was expertly done without a lot of words. The somber mood was created by looks between characters, awkward silences and the overcast sky of the French coast. Even the brief moments of levity – Paul fooling around with his kids while painting a room and a scene of two fathers playing soccer with their kids on the beach – weren’t enough to alleviate my anxiety.
Benoit Magimel does a fantastic job. He is so sad and messed up that you just want to take him in your arms and console him. Attractive, but broken. Paul is character that feels guilt and has no closure. It is a performance that demanded restraint yet intensity from its leading man, which he provides in spades, or it would have become overly maudlin.
An expertly acted and directed film.