Fire – Both Sides of the Blade (2022)

September 2nd, 2022
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Claire Denis | Cast: Juliette Binoche, Vincent Lindon, Grégoire Colin, Issa Perica, Bulle Ogier, Mati Diop | France Drama 116′

Claire Denis explores the intense dynamics of a love triangle in this coruscating character drama that reunites her regular cast of Juliette Binoche, Vincent Lindon, Gregoire Colin and Bruno Podalydes.

Sara (Binoche) and Jean (Lindon) have been in love for nearly a decade living together in a stylish penthouse in Paris where she runs a radio station while Jean, a former professional rugby player, is getting back to normal after serving time. Despite his impulsiveness and potent physicality, Jean offers warmth and stability to Sara who can be controlling and neurotic, rather like his demanding mother Nelly (Ogier) now confined to the family home in the suburb Vitry where she barely manages his troubled teenage son Marcus (Perica) who is slowly going off the rails.

The opening sets the tone for this torridly sensual romantic drama with its elegantly ecstatic sex scenes: Jean and Sara are pictured cavorting in the sea on a winter break. Back in Paris grey skies call time on their idyllic romance when Sara’s saturnine former lover Francois comes back on the scene, offering Jean a new start as a talent coach in his rugby start-up. Sara has certainly found contentment with Jean but catching sight of Francois for the first time in ages leaves her breathless and ready for another dose of the intoxicating chemistry they once shared. Caught in the emotional crossfire between the two men in her life, she probes Jean obsessively for details about Francois and the new venture. But Jean keeps her in the dark while he processes his own feelings, fully aware of the dangers that lie ahead.

Cleverly adapting Christine Angot’s novel, Un tournant de la Vie, for the screen, Denis keeps the camera close and intimate but retains her distance, avoiding sentimentality in charting the emotional volatility and shifting moods with laser sharp intensity as a baleful score hints at turmoil and heartache for the star-crossed lovers. At this point ad libbing takes over between Lindon and Binoche as their onscreen relationship starts to falter and fall apart amid scenes of barely controlled hysteria as powerful emotions surface. Sara, in denial, tries to contain her turbulent thoughts and real motives, becoming defensive: Jean gives her tenderness and security but it is Francois who really sends her wild with his mercurial charm. Jean knows this love is out of control and he prepares to leave only just suppressing the hurt and fury he really feels inside.

The final scenes of enduring love imploding on the rocky shores of passion are revealing and compulsive to watch. Denis keeps us guessing right up to the devastating denouement which is left open to interpretation, satisfying in its ambiguity. MT

ON RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 9 SEPTEMBER | SILVER BEAR | BEST DIRECTOR | BERLINALE 2022

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