As Anne's eyes wander a restaurant, Pierre stares into them, looking for an answer; what has changed? Is there someone else? She says it's nothing. Pierre can only hope this is true. That fragile strand of hope—to which anyone in that circumstance clings—could fray and break at any moment, or it could hold firm for the rest of Anne's and Pierre's lives. As the title of this very French film is La Séparation, you may assume it breaks. But then what? It's not so easy to fall out of love, and that's what this film is really about.
directed by Christian Vincent
starring Isabelle Huppert, Daniel Auteuil
now playing at Broadway Market
The strength of this film is its capacity for ambiguity. Anne's infidelity doesn't make her the bad guy; her feelings have changed in ways that are not fully under her control. Pierre still loves Anne and does everything he can to keep her in his life, but slowly his stifled feelings of betrayal come out in increasingly violent ways. They both use their 2-year-old son, Lou-Lou, as a weapon. Anne threatens to take custody and allow Pierre only two visits a month; Pierre takes Lou-Lou for a walk without telling Anne, letting her panic in their absence. The movie makes clear that all their cruelty springs from pain. It doesn't pass judgment; Anne and Pierre are neither good nor bad, simply human and conflicted about what they want.
Unfortunately, this capacity for ambiguity is also the film's weakness. As closely observed as they are, Pierre and Anne are curiously vaporous; they have no peculiarities, nothing that makes them distinct as people. Perhaps director/co-writer Christian Vincent wants them to be an everycouple, so he gives them no characteristics beyond what Isabelle Huppert and Daniel Auteuil bring to the roles. Alas, though talented and charming, Huppert and Auteuil currently seem as inescapable in French films as Gerard Diapered was several years ago. Without something more substantial to express, their familiar faces threaten to become a wash of nuance, every moment truthful without actually making any impression.
In the right mood, La Séparation could be devastating; in the wrong one, tedious. When I saw it, I liked it. But now I find it hard to remember any of the scenes with clarity. In attempting to describe something as abstract as the dissolution of love, the story fails to become anything concrete. Our emotions may be ephemeral, but we expect the works of art based on them to have some lasting power.