Conversations about film
October 25, 2020
À nos amours
Directed by Maurice Pialat, 1983
Jim Wilson: James, it’s great having you back for another Collokino. How have you been?
James Westbrook: Hey, Jim, thanks for having me back. I’ve been shockingly busy, all things considered. The Atlanta film industry is apparently back to pre-pandemic levels of production, which is foolish if you ask me, but of course no one asked me. How’s everything in the mountains?
Jim: Please stay safe! I can’t imagine how difficult that must be on set.
I’m actually in the eastern flat half of Colorado, where the Great Plains transition to the Rockies. Most Coloradoans look at the mountains through their west-facing windows, not around them. It’s fine, though fires still burn in the foothills, and the smoke makes some days feel like there may be no tomorrow. But alas, here we are.
So, I was elated when you chose À nos amours to discuss, since I dearly love the film, its remarkable director, and its budding star, Sandrine Bonnaire (budding at the time, that is, in 1983). Tell me what it was like for you to first discover this incredible film, and maybe some of the other films of Maurice Pialat.
James: Funny story: my first time watching À nos amours was actually for this edition of Collokino! I first discovered the films of Maurice Pialat in a (appropriately) quotidian way: most of them were expiring off the Criterion Channel last month, and since Pialat has always been a blind spot for me I decided to check them out. I wasn’t expecting much, as I don’t tend to favor naturalistic filmmaking, but A Mouth Agape floored me, and I immediately committed to watching as many of his works as I could. When you reached out to me about coming back on Collokino, it only felt right that I keep that momentum going, and since À nos amours is often considered his masterpiece, I settled on it to discuss.
While I haven’t known Pialat for long, I’ve grown fond of him quickly: this was the ninth film of his I’ve seen, all in the space of the last five weeks. With that in mind, my first watch was largely in line with my expectations, with one major difference: in contrast to many of Pialat’s films of the decade and a half before it (I’m thinking especially of Loulou, The Mouth Agape, and We Won’t Grow Old Together), À nos amours isn’t autobiographical at all. Not that you would notice a difference if you weren’t already aware; like those films, À nos amours is a remarkably empathetic work. With a couple of exceptions, we’re yoked to the point-of-view of Sandrine Bonnaire’s Suzanne for the entire running length, with the emphasis always on her immediate, present-tense experience, an experience that is often as visceral as it is mundane (truly, does any filmmaker better capture the tension between our life’s dramas and the often-drab experience of actually living than Pialat?). Indeed, Suzanne’s coming-of-age story is as much about her lack of options and despondency as it is her emotional growth. It may also be his best acted film, with Bonnaire obviously at the front of the pack; her Suzanne is heartbreakingly real, and Bonnaire captures her existential dread just as well as her youthful mischievousness, both qualities coexisting uneasily, two sides of the same unhappiness.
I’m getting ahead of myself, though. What was your first experience with À nos amours, and what was it like coming back to it for this discussion?
Jim: Oh, I wasn’t aware you hadn’t seen this until now. Maybe you said as much, but I missed it. I just knew you had taken a deep dive into the films of Pialat, and figured this was one of them. But that’s cool. You’re coming at it pretty fresh then.
The first Pialat I watched was Loulou, because I was on a Huppert tear and it was available. Huppert is great in that, of course, but I was really amazed by the space Pialat opens up through the course of the film, in which his characters and actors can move around in and gradually reveal themselves, in a natural way I’ve never seen another director do. All of that is, as I learned with each successive film of his I watched, a signature element in all of Pialat’s stuff. À nos amours I loved when I first watched it, but it wasn’t until several recent re-watches that I came to fully appreciate the groundbreaking cinematic achievement it is. That liminal space between the dramatic and the mundane, as you point out, is so beautifully captured here, and oh boy, is there some serious drama!
So why don’t you take us through a quick synopsis of the story, since it’s pretty straight forward, and then we can get into the singular moments where this film really plays out. And I’ll start with this question for you, which you can address after the summary: You just described it as a coming-of-age story, but how does it differ from so many other films in that crowded genre, and, more generally, how does it compare with other films about teen life and the teen perspective?
James: À nos amours opens with fifteen-year-old Suzanne learning how to act at drama camp; in between rehearsals, she hangs out at the pier with her friends, visits her boyfriend, Luc, and, almost accidentally, begins to sleep around. When she returns to her parents’ house, she quickly resumes her domestic routine; her father (Maurice Pialat) alternates between being quietly understanding and casually abusive, her mother (Evelyne Ker) judges her outfits and friends, and her brother, Robert (Dominique Besnehard), writes and leers at her from a distance. One day her father leaves out of the blue, and all three remaining family members find their lives destabilized; Suzanne and her mother’s fights become bigger and more toxic, and her brother tries to take his father’s place as the “man of the house” by beating Suzanne. Suzanne’s only comfort is with a litany of men (“I’m only happy when I’m with a guy”, she states at one point); sex becomes like a narcotic to her. Eventually, she gets married to one of her boyfriends in a last-ditch attempt to find inner peace, and, soon after, her father re-enters her life, once again throwing her off balance.
I’m glad you asked about coming-of-age stories, as À nos amours often feels like a corrective to that genre. Rather than Suzanne’s trials all leading her to blossom cathartically into adulthood, they instead slowly wear her down, dragging her into a morass of existential despair. She bounces in between domestic torment and sexual distractions, both working in tandem to keep her stuck in place. Even after going to boarding school (an event we only hear about, her time away skipped over in a classic Pialat ellipsis), as soon as she returns to Paris she accidentally runs into Luc, and then falls into the same toxic pattern with her mother and Robert. I think this also relates to À nos amours‘ take on the teen experience: the teenagers of À nos amours aren’t ambitious social climbers overly concerned about their futures, but are rather bored kids guided by their desires and hormones who spend most of their time hanging out (and while À nos amours is often an intense film, Pialat nails the vibe of those hang outs; few films better capture the playful boundary-pushing and twitchy ennui of young adulthood). It’s a take on teenagerdom that emphasizes the circular nature of their days, stuck awkwardly in between the desires of their families and true independence.
However, À nos amours isn’t just a corrective for the coming-of-age genre, it’s also a corrective for the romance. Suzanne and Luc circle one another throughout, Suzanne comparing all her subsequent relationships to either Luc or her father, both largely absent figures that cast long shadows over the film. How do you feel about the way those relationships are handled, and how do you think they affect Suzanne’s evolution as a character throughout the film?
Jim: First, to its corrective nature as a coming-of-age story, I think À nos amours succeeds at capturing young people and their experiences from their own perspective. It’s not teens as imagined by adults, but teens as teens. Of course, Pialat wasn’t a teenager, but he steps away and lets the young actors propel the scenes. I mean, Pialat has his own character, as the father, the patriarch, so I think he’s more generous to let the cast determine a lot of their own characters. And, like you say, it’s not an autobiographical film, so he can be more open-handed. Pialat is amazingly generous in À nos amours, with himself and with the cast.
Suzanne’s father and her boyfriend Luc are her ideal men. They’re not of this world, of Suzanne’s world. They hover over it, looking down on her, hence their frequent absence. Suzanne adores her father because he’s her father, and Luc is a handsome, sensitive and ardent young man that most girls would be thrilled to call their boyfriend.
To Suzanne, they’re both figures of perfection, something she can’t imagine ever possessing. What she can possess is all the other boys we see her with, who are mostly bodies. They’re easy and fun and she basks in their attention. She doesn’t hold them up as ideals, as models of perfection, like what Dad and Luc represent to her. It’s an easy way for her to inoculate herself from the sting of love, by feeling little for the boys and men in her life other than what’s sensual between them.
In that great final scene on the bus you mentioned, Dad tells her, having observed her with various lovers, and presently sending her off with another, that she’s incapable of love. Although we’ve seen Dad deliver some pretty heady indictments before this, this is a doozy. But I think he means it less as a declaration of fact, and more as a challenge. I think there’s also a lot going on beneath this involving her fucked up home life, and her own generation’s time in the world, that we could get to, but I’ll leave this here.
James: I think you’re spot on with your take on Luc and Suzanne’s father as unattainable ideals. Luc, especially, gets idolized by Suzanne throughout, and I think it’s interesting how the film itself lightly contradicts (though never explicitly) her take on their relationship. Early on, when she sneaks away from camp to visit him, he’s sullen and dejected, clearly frustrated that she doesn’t want to sleep with him. Later, when he confesses his love to her in their final scene together, she rejects him on the grounds that she’d rather have inner peace over the kind of ecstatic happiness she’s come to associate with Luc, her first love.
I think her father is a more complex case, though. On my second watch of the film, I paid a great deal more attention to his role in the narrative, knowing how absent he would be throughout. For one thing, while I don’t think any one character is responsible for the events of the film’s back half (indeed, to try and place blame on any of them, with the exception of maybe Robert, would be to ignore the generous approach you so astutely pointed out), her father comes closest; it’s his departure that causes Suzanne’s relationship with her mother and brother to break down, and, when he returns during that unbearably tense dinner scene, he is only too happy to cut Robert down for selling out, yet does so with very little self-reproach, despite the fact that, before he moved out, Robert clearly looked up to him, and if he’d stuck around he likely could have guided his son on a better path. In that bus scene, too, when he tells Suzanne “You think you’re in love, but you just want to be loved”, it struck me as a bit of projection on his part; he accuses his daughter of being selfishly motivated because he, himself, feels that way. He wants to be Suzanne’s ideal without having to be her father. He wants her love without having to do the work.
Of course, that’s all speculation on my part, as we never really learn anything about her father’s life after he leaves the family (a smart choice, in my opinion), but I want to note one last thing about him. During their intimate chat immediately before he moves out, Suzanne and her father have this brief exchange:
Father: A day comes when you’ve had enough. Maybe that day’s come for me.
Suzanne: You fed up with things here?
Father: A day comes… Yeah, you get fed up.
Suzanne: You’ve got another woman, that’s why. That’s why people leave.
Father: Well, yeah. Does that bother you?
On my first watch I took her father at his word that he was having an affair. On rewatch, though, I’m not so sure. I think it’s telling that he never explicitly confirms that he has another woman, and that his “Well, yeah” could just be taken as a confirmation that, yes, affairs are one obvious reason people leave their families (Pialat’s performance could go either way; he thinks about Suzanne’s comment about another woman silently, and only after she blurts out “That’s why people leave” a few moments later does he shrug and say “Well, yeah”, confirming only that brief snippet of her line). Rather, I believe his primary motivation is, as he initially says, that he’s fed up, that he needs something new. I think that reflects back on Suzanne’s decision to leave for San Diego at the film’s end. Yes, she chooses inner peace when she marries Jean-Pierre, as her father did with his own family, but like her father her existential dissatisfaction never truly goes away, and she hits a point where she’s just fed up, so she leaves. I agree with you that Suzanne’s father is an unattainable ideal for her, but I also think his choices become something of a guide for her, a lens through which she views and makes her own decisions. Though she puts him on a pedestal, they’re more alike than she realizes.
Anyway, that’s a long tangent on my part, so I’ll pass the baton back to you with a question: how do you feel about the more intense drama of the film’s middle act?
Jim: Wow, yeah, that’s a great point about Suzanne seeing her father as a guide through her own dissatisfactions, that he holds up for her an example of how to deal with her own unwillingness to secure more enduring relationships. I do not think, though (nor am I suggesting you do), that Pialat is judging Suzanne or his own character for their choices; Pialat isn’t interested in calculating measures of virtue in any of his characters. He’s too much of an existentialist to indulge in that. Suzanne and her father are made of the same cloth. That’s a great observation. Knowing, too, how much Pialat was in love with Bonnaire, and wished to guide and assist her into the world of drama and the cinematic arts, and particularly his own, helps to highlight that sharing and generosity of spirit.
So on to the fight scenes? I think you and I have spoken about this before, about the very physical drama that punctuates a lot of Pialat’s films. And À nos amours, maybe more than any other film of his, is wholly about physicality. À nos amours isn’t a film about ideas so much as it’s a film about bodies moving around through space, often in full contact. It’s very honest about that.
When Suzanne arrives home on several occasions, only to be physically assaulted by her brother, or when she and her mother begin exchanging blows, or all of them are throwing each around the room, even into other rooms, slapping, stumbling, screaming and crashing into things, I think the story of these people, through its characters, its cast, and its director, is drawing from a reserve of volatility, of anger and frustration and, I will emphasize, a degree of jealousy, that is incarnate in the entire production of the film, and expresses itself in these almost shocking scenes of family savagery. It’s always a simmering pot, waiting to blow anytime Suzanne reveals her willfulness.
It’s a violent physicality almost exclusively charged by sexual energy. Robert’s anger at his little sister is partly fueled by sexual jealousy, something that is addressed directly in a later scene. And Suzanne’s mother’s violent outbursts seem to stem from some kind of moral outrage she feels about her sexually liberated daughter, though I suspect that jealousy, again, compels much of Betty’s spite. There’s a key scene that speaks directly to this, when Betty, her Mom, steps into Suzanne’s bedroom to wake her, and Suzanne sits up on the edge of the bed, her back to the camera, and is facing her mother stark naked. Betty makes some comment about wearing a nightgown, and how it’s “disgusting” to sleep in the nude, which speaks volumes. She’s been jilted by her husband, and is, no doubt, confronting an inner crisis about her own desirability, and is then greeted by her own extremely nubile daughter, who is uninhibited by any kind of modesty, and it sets her off. She doesn’t get violent in that scene, but it’s a great indication of what’s stewing around in Betty’s thoughts and driving her to eventually discharge.
Like I said, it’s an incredibly physical film, in every respect, from start to finish, and the sexually fueled violence in the home works as a great counterpoint to the free sexual expression and delight experienced outside the home, when Suzanne is with her friends. It’s a central pillar of the film. What’s your view?
James: That’s a smart read on the film’s physicality. The characters of À nos amours both express themselves with their bodies and are entrapped by them, by the desires and torments that come from existing as a corporeal being. As you point out, so much of the film’s violence comes from characters trying to take Suzanne’s presence from her; both Robert and their mother are animated by the belief that a young woman should only exist a certain way, and Suzanne’s choices fly in the face of that. I don’t think À nos amours is intended as a study of conservative values and misogyny, yet it functions powerfully as one regardless.
In terms of the actual effect of the fight scenes, I’m a little more torn. À nos amours, maybe more than any other Pialat I’ve seen, is fascinated by the gap between the intense quiet of some moments and the explosive emotion of others, and the way Pialat bounces between those two modes is sometimes whiplash inducing. The first time I saw the film the fight scenes felt as if they came out of nowhere, though on rewatch I certainly saw the seeds of them being planted throughout the film’s first act, especially when Suzanne’s father slaps her. One of the interesting things to me about Robert is that while he is to some degree guided by incestual jealousy, his violence also comes from his belief about what a father figure should be. He acts out a vision of their father drained of his thoughtfulness and affection, all macho brutishness and venomous conservatism. It’s another way in which À nos amours is concerned with presence: we express ourselves through our physical being, yet the mental echoes we leave behind in other people are just as important. Our relationship to ourselves is decidedly present-tense, yet our relationship to others is often defined by the past.
I think that same idea applies to Suzanne’s sexuality. While sex, for her, is clearly a coping mechanism, it’s also a way for her to assert her individuality, to find meaning in her physical temporality (if you can’t tell, I’m struck by how effective À nos amours is as a portrait of existential weightlessness. While I don’t think the film is “about” adolescence specifically, that Pialat identifies that period in life with philosophical despair feels very true to my own personal experience, and isn’t an angle you often see artists take when tackling the teen years). Something that fascinates me about this film, though, is that even with its intense physicality, Pialat doesn’t see an embrace of that physicality as a corrective to psychological woes, but is rather simply the only way we’re capable of being. Take this brief monologue of Suzanne’s after one of her hookups:
“Life’s not much fun when you don’t love anyone. It’s not that I don’t love anyone. I adore my father. But that won’t get me far. It kind of scares me. It’s as if my heart’s dried up.”
All we have is our physicality, yet that physicality is sometimes a poor substitute for emotional contentment. I think, too, of a shot shortly after that, an hour into the film: After an overnight rager, Suzanne’s friend Martine is bickering with her lover in the foreground, while in the background Suzanne runs into the arms of her own lover and they begin to get frisky. In the short documentary on this film, The Human Eye, one of the commentators notes that Pialat doesn’t separate mind and body, but rather that his characters are full beings, defined by both at all times. That shot, to me, seems a perfect encapsulation of that idea, the joy of sex and the frustration of emotional discontent collapsed into one image. Interesting to me, too (and refreshing!), that Pialat seems to express no moral opinion on sex at all. Being overly sexual doesn’t give our lives meaning, nor does being a prude; sexuality is simply one color with which we paint our selves.
Jim: I want to respond to your point about presence. You said “Our relationship to ourselves is decidedly present-tense, yet our relationship to others is often defined by the past.” This is an important idea in the film, and I would expand on it by bringing it back to the theme of youth and youthful perspective to emphasize just how important it is.
There’s a theme in À nos amours around the idea of imagining others. Suzanne says to a boyfriend early in the film, in one of many post-coital scenes, that she can’t imagine her parents having sex, or imagine her parents when they were children. Conversely, during the great dimple scene, Pialat’s paternal character talks to Suzanne about imagining her being intimate with her boyfriend Bernard, a moment of intense honesty between father and daughter that is one of the film’s emotional high marks. Let me repeat that. A father tells his teen daughter that he’s imagined her having sex with her boyfriend. Dad is a disrupter, a deceptive and deviant character, always breaking the narrative open, like an egg, again and again.
The youthful experience is central to the film, the newness of being young, the novel experiences of youth when they’re in the middle of it. From the youthful perspective, youth can only be experienced, not reflected on. Children can’t imagine childhood. They can only live it. But adults can imagine youth, and I think Pialat is making a sly point about that with the inverted theme about imagining childhood.
When you say “Our relationship to ourselves is decidedly present-tense,” I would add that to young people all relationships, whether with themselves or others, are entirely present-tense. That’s why they can’t imagine the childhood of adults, because they’re still children. And that’s precisely what consigns them to their existential weightlessness (great term). Childhood is a purgatorial condition, which Pialat and his young actors capture with remarkable authenticity. The relationship these young people then have with others, whether between themselves or with adults, may well be, as you say, defined by the past, but they can’t see that yet. Only in the latter scenes, in which our young characters are maturing into early adulthood, do they, and especially Suzanne, begin to recognize this. That’s what Suzanne sees in her final meeting with Luc – the impossibility of ever being with him again, because of the weight of their past. And it’s so much of what Pialat’s paternal character is helping Suzanne to understand in the final scene, as she prepares to leave for America.
I do want to bring up the climactic dinner party sequence, if only to speak for a moment about the creative process that shapes the film and how we experience it. In an interview with Jean-Pierre Gorin, Jean-Luc Godard’s partner in crime during Godard’s radical phase, Gorin asserted that Pialat is “not a cinema of design, like in the case of Godard, but it’s a cinema of attention. An attention to the weight and density of the scene as it evolves…. It’s a study in relational behavior.” I think that’s brilliant, about as accurate a description of Pialat as possible, and it applies beautifully to what Pialat accomplishes by re-inserting himself into the film in a completely unplanned and spontaneous scene that renders all the actors stunned, quite obviously, by this radical upending of the script (although it had never been a rigorously followed script from the start). In that scene, Pialat is forcing these characters to reassess their relationships with one another. And he does so not only because they’re old enough now to do that, but because that’s the role he’s assigned himself, and the role he’s decided to follow through with, to shake things up, to break established orders, and to speak hard truths. I love watching Pialat’s creative process in action in this way. It’s really astonishing.
And though that scene, and the final bus scene, are extemporized, the entire film has that seat-of-the-pants feel to it. It’s a series of go-for-it dramatic set-ups that the actors occupy both directly and indirectly, casually holding back or choosing to jump in, or to jump in further. There’s both a scripted and spontaneous quality to it that I’ve never seen any other film come close to accomplishing. There are plenty of works of art that let their guts hang out, that reveal the sausage’s making, but they’re rarely this transcendent.
Did that scene, or the mingling scene that sets it up, have an impact on you, or not so much?
James: Very well put about the film’s relationship to past and present, and how Suzanne’s awareness of that changes as she ages. I would only add that I think it’s interesting that when she leaves with America it’s with Michel, a man she’d been flirting with for years, and thus who represents both a new path and a direct connection to her old life. He is past and present personified as one man. I initially read that ending as Suzanne fleeing, of being “fed up” as her father was, but I think you’re right that there’s more maturity to that choice than there initially appears to be.
Agreed, too, on the dinner scene. I was pretty tickled to learn that the father was supposed to be dead at that point in the script, and Pialat chose (almost literally) at the last second to reinsert him at that moment. I think that mix of scripted and spontaneous is part of what makes Pialat one of the greats. He doesn’t lean into the improvisational elements of his process aesthetically (he rarely uses handheld or egregious jump cuts, the common markers of the on-the-fly film), yet gives his actors the freedom to guide their characters in new directions. At the same time, that improvisation rarely seems to change the overall trajectory of his films; Pialat uses improvisation to find the humanity underpinning each scene, rather than using it to write new stories from scratch. I think what makes that dinner scene so effective is that we don’t necessarily learn anything new from it, beyond the fact that Suzanne’s father is alive and that Suzanne visits with him. Rather, it acts as an emotional culmination, the fissures in Suzanne’s family cracking apart once more even after life’s natural changes (Suzanne’s marriage, Robert’s professional success) had papered over them. It’s the past reasserting itself over the present, right at the moment when Suzanne starts to gain a measure of control over her past, as we see during the final Luc scene.
Another way that improvisatory spirit shines through, and one of my favorite things about Pialat, is his use of ellipsis. I was fascinated to learn, for one thing, that Pialat would often shoot scenes that filled in his film’s chronological gaps, then cut them in the editing room, leaving holes in the film’s plot. Yet rarely in Pialat’s work does it feel like there’s anything missing. Rather, those gaps create that feeling of day-to-day life happening before our eyes. If most storytelling is driven primarily by characters making choices, then most storytellers choose to hone on choices that feel unique and powerful, ones that push life in a new direction. Pialat, though, focuses on patterns of behavior, on what is similar about every choice a person makes and the subtle differences between each, and finds the drama in that. I don’t think À nos amours is the best example of that repetition (The Mouth Agape is a masterpiece, and it focuses almost entirely on the grinding wheel of time), but I think the way Pialat applies it to the coming-of-age story is insanely smart, and accentuates the inversion of perception in terms of past/present you elucidated above.
While we’re on the topic of Pialat’s working method, I know you watched a lot of behind-the-scenes material in preparation for this discussion. Did anything else stick out to you that we haven’t touched on?
Jim: There are a lot of great bonus features that accompany the Criterion release of À nos amours. I don’t really want to spoil any of them more than we already have, except I can’t help but reveal that the trip to San Diego that Suzanne takes in the end was, in fact, a real trip Sandrine Bonnaire was taking with her fiancé, which Pialat paid for. There’s a great interview with director Catherine Breillat, who worked with Pialat and whose own style is clearly influenced by his. The San Diego story comes from an interview with Bonnaire herself, which is wonderful. Let me just say that if you fall in love with this film, you will cherish the bonus stuff.
So, here’s a bit of trivia. On my second, and especially third, watch of the film, I was struck by the actress who plays Robert’s wife. She appears for the first time in the dinner party sequence, near the end. You know how sometimes you look at somebody and there’s something about them you’re drawn to, though you can’t really say why? Yeah, she’s pretty, but it’s a film filled with beautiful women, so what was it? As the credits rolled after my third watch, I looked out for her name, and when I saw it, the proverbial lightbulb went on in my head. It’s Valérie Schlumberger. She married Henri Seydoux, and is the mother of Léa Seydoux, my favorite actress, who was born two years after À nos amours was made. Knowing that, and then going back and watching her, I couldn’t believe I didn’t recognize it right away, since her daughter looks exactly like her. I love discovering little things like that.
I want to introduce a new closing feature for Collokino, called “Reverbs”. But first, is there anything else you want to say about this work of pure cinematic genius?
James: Wow, that’s a great catch! I had the exact same tip-of-my-tongue reaction to Ms. Schlumberger. It makes so much sense that she’s Léa Seydoux’s mother.
The one observation I wrote down that we haven’t touched on elsewhere, one that I think ties in well with your thoughts on adolescence above, is on Pialat’s use of drama camp and acting in the film’s opening, specifically in how it plants this idea of love’s falsity in our minds, that Suzanne is playacting at these grand emotions more than she’s really experiencing them. I don’t think Pialat views Suzanne as faking her way through love (indeed, I think he respects her feelings deeply), but I do think he’s hinting at the facsimile-esque nature of growing up, how we each form our adult identities partly by copying what our parents and other adults in our lives do; we act at adulthood before we truly feel it. I think that also applies, to a lesser extent, to Robert’s career as a writer, the major difference being that Robert’s creative outlet is all about control, whereas Suzanne’s is all about expression. A perfect choice for both characters, I think.
And that’s all I’ve got! It really is a remarkable movie, and while I didn’t have a strong emotional attachment to it before this, I’m glad I chose it. I think we touched on a lot of what makes it, and Pialat more generally, so special.
Do you have any final thoughts to add before we move on to “Reverbs”?
Jim: Only that I remember something from one of the extras about how that drama camp beginning also reflects Pialat’s reflexive perception of Bonnaire as a fledgling actress, who’s playing the role of a young girl learning to act.
To finish, I’m adding a new feature to the end of the discussion, a short comment called a “Reverb”. The name of my blog is a regal reference to both the first letter of my last name, and a sub-genre of roots reggae that I love. Crucial to dub is echo and reverb, and the exalted power of repetition.
So, in that spirit, I ask, what’s your reverb? What’s been reverberating for you recently? What’s something – lately – that revisits you? What’s something that’s been repeating in your thoughts recently, something that’s been cycling through your brain, of which you’d like to unburden yourself? It can be anything – personal, work, creative, from literature, music, craft, sports, politics, whatever, anything that resounds at the moment. Lean on the compression, and do it in a short paragraph! I’ll go first. It’s hopelessly uncreative, since it goes as far afield as, well, film.
I’ve been thinking about the set-ups for assumptions about romance in film. Should it matter if they even exist? In other words, do I have to be convinced that characters in a film are in love by witnessing enough lead-up scenes of the two constructing that affection, or can I just take it as a given, by way of creative license, and move forward with the story, without a certain critical volume of evidence being necessary? I was reading a critique of Portrait of a Lady on Fire, in which the writer was complaining that there isn’t enough lead-up to validate the vigorous affection between Marianne and Héloïse, and though I could understand what the writer’s point was, it seemed like an artificial critique, which it was trying to fit the film into, when it’s the critique that needs to fit into the film. I never feel it’s necessary to be convinced in that way; so long as the romance in the “now” of the film is authentic, I don’t require foundational proof. I dunno, it’s been tumbling around in my thoughts lately. What’s been banging around in your skull lately?
James: I definitely agree with you: the most important thing for any filmed romance is verisimilitude. The circumstances that lead to that romance couldn’t matter less if the romance itself feels genuine.
This is a funny time to be asking this question. As you know (since we had to delay this conversation at the last second because of me), I’ve been very busy with work lately. I work in the film industry in a variety of roles, but for a long time I primarily worked as a camera assistant (or 1st AC). The last couple of years, though, I’ve gotten incredibly sick of that job, and now try to do it as little as possible, but I haven’t pivoted away enough to not do it at all. This last week and change that’s what I was doing, and while the gig itself was interesting (a documentary on Black Lives Matter in multiple cities around the American south and Midwest), I was never able to escape the feeling of intense malaise it brought me. It doesn’t help that I was on the road, too, and that most film sets run on 12-hour days, which leaves one with very little personal time. It’s made me think a lot about how important it is that one’s work feels important, how essential it is to be challenged in a meaningful way. American culture overvalues work far too much, but good work is still an important facet of a balanced life. Bad work, though, can leave one stuck in an existential death spiral, wherein one is left feeling as if they exist only to survive. One of our culture’s great flaws is how little it differentiates between good work and bad work, both considered just “work”, and how much we value busyness over balance. Call me crazy, but without reflection, busyness is often just wasted time, doubly so if what’s making one busy isn’t satisfying on a deeper level.
That’s what’s been reverberating with me lately. In retrospect, it makes a lot of sense that I would latch onto the existentialism of À nos amours, considering I’ve been dealing with my own existential weightlessness the last half month.
Jim: I couldn’t agree more. We have some pretty fucked up ways of thinking about labor in this broken country. I hope you can find a better place with work moving forward.
Thanks for bringing this truly awe-inspiring film to discuss, James. It’s a real thrill to savor the details of any Pialat film, and this one most of all. Until next time!
James: Thanks again for having me, Jim. It was a pleasure as always.
Jim: Look out for a special issue of Collokino coming out very soon, where I talk with my brother Jeff about Sofia Coppola’s new film On the Rocks.