Thursday, November 6, 2014

If You Don't, I Will (Arrête ou je continue)

IF YOU DON’T, I WILL (Arrête ou je continue)         B-                        
France  (102 mi)  2014  d:  Sophie Fillières

Sophie Fillières is better known as a screenwriter than a director, co-writing an earlier Noémie Lvovsky film FORGET ME (Oublie-Moi) (1994) showing a keen ear for the kind of small talk superficiality that hides deeper frustrations, where “self knowledge is a dangerous thing.”  This romantic film comedy is no exception, with a rhythmic sounding dialogue that resembles David Mamet doing screwball comedy, where this is largely a two-person play as we follow the squabbles and misunderstandings of a married couple whose marriage is on the rocks.  While the likeable actors display excellent comic timing throughout, Mathieu Amalric as Pierre and Emmanuelle Devos as Pomme, this film is ultimately a bit too absurd, though beneath the laughter is a tragically sad portrait of marital dysfunction.  The film is set amidst a 20th century existential state of limbo, given a Sartrian No Exit tone that borders on the surreal, where the characters couldn’t be more out of place and out of time, yet they are hanging onto every word the other says with biting, overly sarcastic comebacks, where much of their dialogue has the feel of a string of one-liners.  The audience doesn’t know what to make of this, as the two are obviously very clever, have a deep-seeded connection with each other, as if they’re afraid to actually let go, but rather than argue about their feelings or what matters to them, they spend their time resorting to pettiness and trivialities as a means of holding something over on the other person, becoming a long and extended Alice in Wonderland meaningless game of some sort, caught in a rabbit hole of their own making, becoming an absurd power trip that reflects the changing nature of relationships.  While there is obvious wit on display, it feels wasted, as neither one appreciates anything the other has to say, where instead they’re actually too busy avoiding one another. 

Amalric and Devos have appeared together as a couple in French movies no less than six times now, going back 18-years to an early talkative Arnaud Desplechin comedy, MY SEX LIFE…OR HOW I GOT INTO AN ARGUMENT (1996), so their history together gives the material added weight, as we’ve been through various battles with them before, making them not only familiar and recognizable, but we’re also comfortable with them onscreen.  What’s perhaps most surprising, given the levity of the material, is that nothing is working, that their relationship is in shambles and they’re content to leave it that way.  After their college-age son Romain (Nelson Delapalme) moves out of the home, the distance between them only grows wider, where Pomme is apparently recovering from a potentially serious but benign brain tumor, giving her pause and a chance to reflect about the state of their affairs, asking for a definitive commitment from Pierre, but instead he provides painstaking existential answers that simply avoid the question, refusing to provide an ounce of reassurance, as if this kind of verbal sparring is how they spend their lives, turning romance into an ongoing mind game resembling a jousting match, continually hoping to pierce under the armor of the other.  Treated in this manner, love is a faded memory, like lost youth, which can only reincarnate in another form, often expressing itself in protracted bitterness.  While they attend art galleries together and have a personal trainer who sadistically keeps them in shape, she notices he refuses to dance with her at parties, and their attempts to chill half a bottle of champagne in the fridge on “superfrost” results in a disaster, as the bottle explodes, where they end up sipping chunks of frozen champagne ice mixed with pieces of broken glass.  Despite the passive aggressive streak, with hints of meanness, the two still show a certain degree of laughter and affection while remaining at arms length from one another, while the music from singer-songwriter Christophe adds a mainstream dimension of pop romanticism to this otherwise quirky tale. 

The two decide to take a walk and go camping in a nature preserve, but their bickering continues, where at the end of a long walk Pomme refuses to return home with Pierre, as she’s simply had it with the guy, who incredulously leaves her behind and returns back to the apartment.  She doesn’t know this, however, and can’t reach him as her cell phone battery is dead, but initially spends a good deal of time looking for him, thinking he may be lurking just around the corner waiting for her to come to her senses.  But no, he leaves her flat to fend for herself in the forest, which completely alters the tone of the film as instantly there’s no fighting, no talking, suddenly silence, as both have been sent to their neutral corners, and wordless images take over as Pomme finds various creatures to interact with in the woods, turning this into a whimsical Disney experience where she talks to rabbits and goats, even saves a deer that falls into a hole, while sleeping on the ground eating provisions she brought along with her.  Quite the outdoors woman, rather than staying in one place waiting to be rescued, she takes a different strategy and starts hiking out of there, finding a small hotel nearby serving food to a group of chamber musicians, joining in, pretending to be one of the players, feasting on the dinner festivities before returning back to the forest.  Meanwhile Pierre is visited by Romain, who’s a bit perplexed by his father simply leaving his mother out in the woods without calling the police, as it’s already been several days.  Whatever rift existed between them before has only grown deeper, as Pierre is no help whatsoever.  Pomme’s absence in the woods recalls Hans Christian Schmid’s German film Home for the Weekend (Was bleibt)  (2012) where a mother with a history of mental problems wanders off alone into the woods, with the family organizing a police search and rescue operation in a futile attempt to find her, similarly expressing wholesale family dysfunction before the character disappears, exploring the bored and meaningless lives of the rich and wealthy, discovering what they’ve really been searching for all along is the emptiness within, becoming a counterpart to Antonioni’s L’AVVENTURA (1960).  This witty, well acted, dialogue-driven film uses absurd humor to chip away at the idea of a healthy bourgeois marriage, where an otherwise intelligent and attractive middle-aged couple loses their bearings during a midlife crisis, becoming an eccentric and moderately appealing satire on modern marriage. 

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