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While I won’t claim to be familiar with French cinema’s tropes, clichés, and what have you, based off what I have watched and perhaps reviewed here, I can definitely say that those familiar with French tragic romances will find little new here.
Characters Worth Noting
Paul (Quentin Dolmaire & Mathieu Amalric)| Esther (Lou Roy-Lecollinet)
One event in which Paul allows a Russian person a forged identity, which essentially is his, to go to Israel brings up old thoughts as he is stopped, decades later, at an airport. Old thoughts of perhaps the only girl consistently in Paul’s life who was both mesmerizing and infuriating. Yet over 10 years they broke up and got back together. Cheated on one another with strangers, and in her case with his friends and family, yet though too volatile to stay together, they were too drawn to one another to stay apart. This tale is their slightly twisted love story featuring what often kept Paul away from being where Esther wanted him.
American romance films are often simple. Girl meets boy, girl usually is there to help boy become a better person, boy doesn’t appreciate it till it is almost too late, then he does a grand gesture for a happy ending. This, to me, is the norm. Making it so when movies like 500 Days of Summer come out, they become cult hits. With French cinema, though, it seems the opposite is done. Happy endings are few and far between and while usually the focus is on the male and him learning and growing still, things are drastically more complicated.
You see, despite the French being considered the romantics, there is a line drawn between words of love and acts of passion. The words are what we believe are their culture. Things said which makes you swoon and flutter your eyes like a fool. However, the passion is often anything but romantic. The fights, the betrayals! Oh, there is nothing simple about romance in French films. In this movie, Esther is the girl who supposedly all the girls hate and all the boys either wanna be with or sleep with. She seems so assured of herself to the point of arrogance. A trait Paul quite admires as he approaches her with seemingly no romantic experience. Yet, somehow, he turns this lioness into a sheep. One who needs him desperately to the point it is surprising the only damage she does to herself is sleeping around with people and not drinking and drugging herself into oblivion. But, despite her being open with her transgressions, and he to her, it is weirdly accepted because often there is a distance between them.
Their back and forth is often wild and confusing. Especially with her sleeping with those who are his friends and family. Those who should be supporting Paul’s relationship with her are the ones taking advantage of his absence. Yet there is so much forgiveness for reasons you can never understand why.
Yes, Paul and Esther are cute together, but her clinginess and aversion to being social makes them seem like an odd couple when they are outside seclusion of a bedroom, rooted in a private intimacy. Though perhaps the real odd thing about this film is how this all starts with Paul being stopped at the airport for it is believe his passport is fraudulent and then us going into issues he has had with his parents and this one spy-like mission he did in Russia. To say the least, while this film is primarily focused on Esther and Paul’s relationship, it creates so many arguments as to why they could never be that you sometimes wonder what the movie wants you to learn, see, or understand.
You have to admire how in French cinema there often doesn’t feel like a tried and true way to go. There doesn’t seem to be a formula. It is just two people feeling each other out, often clashing, yet melting into one another after their shields are broken, walls torn down, and there is nothing left but the softness of skin left to protect them.
Perhaps what bothered me the most about this film is that Esther was never allowed to become more than a love interest. It is noted she went to school, perhaps didn’t have the best relationship with people, especially her parents, but she was just a mess with little explanation as to why. The time spent on the Russian story, meeting Paul’s siblings, who basically disappear halfway through the film, and then this airport thing, a lot of that time, I felt, could have been dedicated to building up Esther. Though, for what I know, perhaps there is a place for Esther like characters. Women who are but love interest and that’s it. Maybe it is just some political correctness planted in my head which leads me to believe both leads deserve equal backgrounds.
On The Fence
The tender moments, usually when in a bedroom alone together, are when you can understand Paul and Esther’s relationship always being rekindled. There is a softness to her which seemingly is only available when naked. Otherwise, insecurities, arrogance, and an inability to compromise rage in her to the point she seems less like a person and more like someone whose world revolves around Paul. A 2D depiction of someone’s ex-placed into a script. Which seemed a tad unbelievable considering how cool and independent she was initially shown as. Though, I guess, the argument could be that once the infatuation phase was over we got to see the real Esther.