Both Sides Of The Blade: Review
Radio presenter Sara (Juliette Binoche) lives in Paris with her long-time partner Jean (Vincent Lindon), a former rugby player with a criminal record. A chance encounter brings Jean’s once close friend and colleague, François (Grégoire Colin), back into their lives. He also happens to be Sara’s former lover. So begins a complex love triangle that threatens to disrupt the couple’s status quo.
Director Claire Denis delivers an ill-fated, romantic, toxic melodrama, starring three of her regular collaborators and some of France’s finest working talent. This is Colin’s seventh film with Denis, Binoche and Lindon have both worked with her twice before, in different films.
We are introduced to the couple swimming in the sea while on holiday. Their affectionate, tender caresses, intensified by Éric Gautier’s gorgeously dreamy and mellow cinematography, suggest a blissful relationship. On their return to Paris, however, it is back to reality and it soon becomes apparent that this idealistic relationship in not all it seems.
Binoche gives a superbly raw, nuanced performance as the increasingly duplicitous woman torn between two lovers. Lindon and Colin display machismo but also fragility as the two men vying for her devotion and fidelity. Denis takes care not to let us side with any one character, all of whom at some time show not just their flaws but also their capacity for spite, acrimony and flagrant unscrupulousness.
Enjoyable as it is to watch these performances on screen, the pace does drag in places. The film’s overall style is very naturalistic and not afraid to take its time, but Denis has a tendency here to draw-out scenes once they have already delivered their intention.
Another downside I felt had to do with the soundtrack, provided by regular Denis collaborators Tindersticks. More often than not the music was overbearing and distracted from the performances, particularly of the two leads, who are more than capable themselves of communicating the complexities of the narrative without a score which was overdone.
Not only was it a distraction but also frustrating, as the scenes without it carried a lot more weight and focus. One of the most effective scenes, in which Lindon has a weighty conversation with his son Marcus, was played without music. Having the score drop out here made the significance of the moment so much more impactful. It was a decision from which the rest of the film could have benefited.
Aside from the over-scoring and the occasional slump in pace it is still an engaging and tense film worth sticking with, and to be fair the narrative does pick up as it progresses. Thankfully Denis concludes the resulting aftermath without sentiment or, worse, a happy ending. Instead she delivers some deserved retribution and just a little hope.
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