Stars Laetitia Dosch, Sergei Polunin, Lou-Teymour Thion, Grégoire Colin
French-Lebanese director Arbid’s adaptation of French writer Annie Ernaux’s 1991 best-selling French novel is a flawed, typically Gallic tale of amour fou, elevated by a central performance from Dosch, capitalizing on her star-making role as the ditzy thirtysomething in ‘Jeune Femme’.
She is Hélène, a Parisian literature professor and single mother to son Paul (Thion). Hélène is hopelessly smitten with the enigmatic married Russian diplomat Alexandre (Polunin) who visits her apartment for bouts of intense sex. An ill-matched couple, she is a liberal academic, he is brutish, a supporter of the authoritarian Russian government who criticises Hélène for wearing short skirts. Despite her attempts to initiate emotional intimacy Alexandre reveals little, other than he has a wife in Moscow. Yet the more he pushes her away, the more obsessive Hélène becomes, neglecting her son and her work commitments to the point she’s barely functioning.
While the sex scenes are frank and impressively unvarnished, the picture feels a little glossy at times in its presentation of Hélène’s bourgeois trappings, but it nods to the arthouse too. Excerpts from ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ are included and director Arbid reaches for that film’s dreamy eroticism, while Alexandre bears a slight resemblance to Marcel, Deneuve’s bit of rough in ‘Belle de Jour’. The selection of pop songs scattered throughout are a little on the nose though, often breaking the story’s feverish spell.
Controversial Ukrainian ballet star Poulunin, he of the Putin tattoo fame, is a little stiff and inexpressive as Alexandre, but this pretty much works in his objectified character’s favour, Dosch is fearless and completely committed, as she conveys Hélène’s mental turmoil in intense close-ups, her performance strong enough to carry the picture though the occasional lapses.
Simple Passion is available to stream on Curzon Home Cinema on February 5th
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