BOTH SIDES OF THE BLADE
(***½)-VITO CARLI

"...emotionally bruising-is definitely worth sitting through..."

A Cut Above Typical Relationship Drama's

(081122) Both Sides of the Blade is a painfully realistic and totally adult drama from France that depicts a long-time marriage unraveling before our very eyes. A middle-aged wife in a complacent marriage is torn between her dependable husband and an exciting ex-boyfriend that has come back into her life. It is the third and probably best of the three excellent films that director Clair Denis made with Juliiette Binoche. The others were High Life (2017) and Let the Sunshine In (2017).

The film was shot during COVID and the characters can be seen wearing masks in public which adds another level of danger to the illicit affair and secret sexual rendezvous.

The film’s title is taken from a song by the Tindersticks which was used in the end of the film. The director, Clair Denis, elaborated on the title saying, the film “is sharp, there is passion and it could be divided in a painful way, it’s cutting.”

Denis is the film maker who has made such highly regarded films as Chocolat (1988), Can’t Sleep (1994), and White Material (2009). Beau Trevail (1999) which might be her masterpiece, often shows up on critics’ the best films of the 90s lists. This has been a great year for Denis. Both Sides of the Blade won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival and the other film she made this year, The Stars at Noon (which has not yet been released in Chicago) won the Grand Prix at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival

The star of Both Sides of the Blade, Binoche, has long been considered one of the finest and most consistently outstanding actresses in the world (I much prefer her oeuvre to Meryl Streep’s). Some of her best and most respected films include The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988), Lovers on a Bridge (1991), Three Colors: Blue White and Red (1992-3), Chocalat (1999), Cache (2005), and best of all, Certified Copy (2010), which I picked as best film of that decade (see the Alternate Reality article). Despite its Oscar acclaim and “classic” status, I don’t consider her film, The English Patient to be a major or particularly interesting work.

Although he is much less well known, her costar, Vincent Lindon, got deserved acclaim and attention for the outstanding, Measure of Man (2014), the colorful and imaginative, Isle of Dogs (2017), and the subversive, Titane (2019). Lindon is almost as convincing and impressive as Binoche playing the long-suffering husband who does not fully understand what his wife is going through.

The film Is centered around a painful and passionate love triangle. Binoche plays Sara, a talented radio journalist who gets to interview some of the most knowledgeable and important people in French culture. She is married to Jean (Vincent Lindon) who is an ex con and former pro rugby player who is trying to rehabilitate himself, and he has started working as an athletic scout. Jean’s new (and former) partner is Francoise (Gregoire Colin) who is Sara’s ex-lover.

Sara and Jean have an odd and contradictory relationship. Both members of the married couple are capable of smoldering passion often followed by periods of extreme remoteness and coldness.

The renewed business relationship between Jean and Francois is not purely coincidental. In one of the most memorable scenes in the film, Sara sees Francois looking like the essence of cool putting a motorcycle helmet on a woman who is presumably his girlfriend, and both he and Sara eyes meet in a moment that will dramatically change three lives. Her expression is like that of an alcoholic who has just decided that she is about to get off the wagon. When she later mentions she saw Francois to her husband, she pretends to brush it off as if it were inconsequential, but I’m sure they both know it means something. Shortly after Francois calls up Jean and offers to form a partnership with him knowing that the not very employable ex con with the well to do wife is unlikely to jump on any job offer. It is also of course a convenient excuse to see Sara again.

Sara continually tries and fails to hide her excitement of the concept of seeing her ex again. She is haunted by her memories of her relationship to Francois and eventually succumbs to temptation. Jean eventually picks up on clues that something is going on between his wife and partner which leads to one of the most volatile and emotionally devastating cinematic arguments I have seen in a long time.

Jean also has a troubled relationship with Marcus, who is his son by his previous wife who was a person of color. Marcus resents his dad’s advice about his career path (Marcus wants to settle for going to vocational school which would probably get him only a lower-level job), and he thinks Jean will never be able understand what it is like to be black in a predominantly white French society (although like many European cultures France is becoming increasingly less mono-racial). The way you see the relationship might depend on your politics. A conservative might see Marcus as a delinquent who blames his personal failings or lack of ambition on discrimination and a liberal might see his dad as a privileged white person who is insensitive or does not comprehend the particular problems and limitations his son faces because of his race and social class.

Like many 15-year-olds and their dads, the gulf between them seems enormous. To complicate things Marcus resents his dad’s current wife and he is stealing money from his grandmother (Bulle Ogier) who is his well-intentioned but out to lunch legal guardian. Although Sara often interviews people about race in France, she never tries to help her husband with the racial divide between her husband and his son. The black son with lower economic expectations than his upper-class dad seems to live in a different world than his father and their relationship hints at the existence of two Frances.

Although the film’s slow start and psychologically negative situations might repel some viewers, this often emotionally bruising film is definitely worth sitting through and it offers many rewards. It contains several of the year’s best performances (Binoche should be remembered at Oscar time) and it is just as psychologically searing and powerful as Marriage Story (although I don’t think the script is as consistently remarkable) or a classic Cassavetes film. But if you go be prepared for some explosive emotional fireworks.
 

Directed & Written  by:    Clair Denis, screenplay based on "Un Tournant de
 le Vie" by Christine Angot and adapted in
 collaberation with the author.
Starring:    Juliette Binoche, Vincent Lindon, and Bule Ogier
Released:    07/08/22 (USA)
Length:    116 minutes
Rating:    Unrated, contains language, nudity, profanity and
 sexual situations. Presented in French with
 English subtitles
Available On:    Currently playing at some local theatres in limited
 release, and it is available on Hulu Max and it will
 be available for streaming on Justwatch on
 September 29.

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to www.artinterviews.org and www.chicagopoetry.org. His latest book "Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor" is also available.

BOTH SIDES OF THE BLADE  © 2022 Picturestart
Review © 2022 Alternate Reality, Inc.

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