Catherine Corsini interprets George Eliot’s famous observation that “in every parting [is] an image of death” rather too literally in her newest offering, a thrilling drama about infidelity and the trappings of marriage in France’s upper-middle class milieu.
Suzanne (Kristen Scott Thomas) is about to reignite her career as a reflexologist, having fulfilled her dual obligations as both wife and mother to Samuel (Yvann Attal) and their two children, when the arrival of hired-hand Ivan (Sergi López), an intriguing Spanish ex-convict cum builder, threatens to disrupt their comfortable bourgeois existence.
Following a freak car accident, Suzanne seizes on the opportunity to escort the injured Ivan across the French border into Spain, motivated on the surface by guilt for causing his fracture but is, in actuality, compelled by her irrepressible lust. Having shared a fleeting kiss, they return to France, their sublimated urges simmering in the summer heat.
Unable to banish the Spaniard from her thoughts, Suzanne begins to neglect her family in favour of energetic bouts of adulterous love making in Ivan’s flat, safely tucked away from her husband’s prying eyes in a working class district, a transgression of social mores that only serves to intensify her yearning. Soon afterwards, Suzanne confesses the affair to her family unleashing Samuel’s wrath who initiates a hopeless campaign of underhand tactics aimed at luring his wife back. Resembling the kind of villainous monster more commonly associated with Victorian melodrama, Samuel’s increasingly cruel treatment of his wife (locking her in their bedroom, freezing her bank account and insulting her worth) signals the bitter resentments and unspoken grievances that has both plagued their marriage and fuelled its rapid disintegration.
Scott Thomas delivers one of her best performances, subtly unfolding her character until she is laid bare, her torment clawing at every frame. Corsini’s excellent use of locations, mirroring and juxtaposition reflects her characters’ psychological states; Suzanne and Ivan’s shared sense of elation at having been released from varying forms of imprisonment; Samuel’s impotent rage versus Ivan’s alpha-male sexuality; the lovers’ free flowing exchanges in direct contrast to the muted silence of married life; the open planned white-washed minimalism of the family home in opposition to Ivan’s claustrophobic dimly lit flat; consensual passionate sex rubbing shoulders with domestic rape. Corsini integrates every detail with such masterly precision that combined with the cinematography, the performances and the dialogue, she succeeds, without question, in creating an immensely satisfying whole that simultaneously challenges, entertains and disturbs the audience in a manner so rarely achieved in contemporary cinema.