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PostPosted: Thu Jul 07, 2022 3:07 pm 
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CLAIRE DENIS: FIRE/AVEC AMOUR ET ACHARNEMENT (2021)

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GRÉGOIRE COLIN, JULIETTE BINOCHE IN FIRE

Messy love

Also known as Both Sides of the Blade, this is a love triangle film centered on Juliette Binoche, whose longtime lover is Vincent Lindon, but who is blindsided when she runs into former lover Grégoire Colin. This is considerably further complicated when François (Colin) contacts Jean (Lindon) and proposes they work together in a sports management agency (Jean is a former pro rugby player) as they had before Jean served a prison sentence. Sara (Binoche) and Jean tell each other this is going to be fine. But in private Sara is emotionally disturbed; her world has suddenly turned upside down. Soon Jean leaves her to her small but ship-shape modern Paris flat, no doubt funded by Sara's successful job as a government radio presenter, where a lot of the indoor action transpires, and returns to his mother (Bulle Ogier) in the banlieue of Vitry where she has been raising his fifteen-year-old mixed-blood son Marcus (Issa Perica).

Denis is working with very basic material in a seamless, no-nonsense way here (D'Angelo has called it, disapprovingly, "Dogme-style"), in a world of the passions and the quotidian. The style is a little like her Friday Night, or perhaps Un beau soleil intérieur . There is logic in these connections because Lindon starred in Friday Night and Binoche in the other film: both are about passionate lovemaking. (The name of Lindon's character is Jean in the other film too.) And Denis collaborated with writer Christine Angot before on Beau soleil. This is Grégoire Colin's eighth appearance in a Denis film; he has an interesting history.

Despite the overlaps, the material feels fresh, even if it has its clichéd or heavy-handed moments, mainly because of the very Claire Denis eroticism and the anger fueling things up from scene to scene, save in the blissful prelude where Jean and Sara are on a honeymoon-like vacation floating in a sea of too-good-to-be-true amorous bliss. Before François and Sara have gotten back together, Jean is already very jealous. He's seen how she looked at François at a gathering and can't bear that he kissed her on the mouth, or believe her insistence that she turned away. This is an all-too-believable, grating quarrel. Then we see François and Sara in bed together and it's beyond turning away. He wants her to turn around so he can enter her from behind and she protests as the camera, supervised by Éric Gautier this time, not Denis' regular dp Agnès Godard, shows their aging, no longer trim bodies.

Richard Brody, in good form here, wrote an elaborate description of this film when it showed in the New York Rendez-Vous with French Cinema. He works out what happened between Jean and François in surprising detail given the scrappy hints provided. I don't know how he figures it out so well, but it makes sense. In some vague way François is a bad guy (did Jean take a rap for him?), though Sara's leaving him originally for Jean, was that "right"? Should the kind of sleuthing Brody has done be necessary to make sense of a movie plot?

There is a secondary theme of the son and race. As Brody puts it, "Jean tries to give [Marcus] a lesson in race-blind autonomy, and it doesn’t take." This "lesson" for the sullen boy, who is rudderless at fifteen and seems without hope, is disturbing to watch because Jean cluelessly lectures his son and doesn't listen to him, but this element is nonetheless carefully handled by the African born and raised Denis, who also introduces a radio interview by Sara with a real African talking about white privilege, citing Franz Fanon.

With the sketchy information we're given about the characters and the unresolved, broken ending, Fire leaves one unsatisfied, perhaps longing for the kind of genteel love relations we get in Éric Rohmer's films, which are free of anything like the two repetitious, angry yell-fests between Jean and Sara we have to sit through here, so lacking in French logic or elegance. But Fire is an appropriate film for our disturbed, hostile times and in fact the mask-wearing and vaccinations in includes make it very much of the present post-pandemic era. I'd agree with Brody Fire is "a work of shocking emotional immediacy." The difference is this doesn't quite feel to me like Denis in top form. What she does capture in the verbal fights that's rarely so clear - though the big yell-fest in Baumbach's Marriage Story is similar, if more interesting - is how lovers can show they don't know what they think or feel but that they only know that everything has gone wrong. And nobody else could have made a movie quite like this.

Fire/Avec amour et acharnement ("With Love and Relentlessness") 116 mins., debuted at the Berlinale Feb. 12, 2022 where Denis won Best Director; a few festival showings since then, mostly in the US, Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, Sun Valley, Florida, Wisconsin, San Francisco (SFIFF). US theatrical release Jul. 8, 2022, starting at IFC Center, New York. French release Aug. 31, 2022.

A French pre-release review will be found by Siegfried Forster in RFI.

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