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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2020 Competition

Review: Simple Passion


- In her highly accomplished adaptation of Annie Ernaux’s novel, Danielle Arbid delves right to the very heart of an irrepressible and incandescent love which ends up driving a woman to distraction

Review: Simple Passion
Laetitia Dosch and Sergei Polunin in Simple Passion

"Since September last year, I’ve done nothing but wait for a man: for him to call me, for him to come over. I worked, I went to the cinema and to the supermarket, I read, but in everything I did it was as if I was disconnected from reality." It’s night-time and the camera scrutinises the face of a slightly dishevelled blond woman, who stares into a hotel foyer from across the road before disappearing off into the distance of Paris’ streets.

It’s by going backwards in time and by presenting a very precise inventory of memories relating to the events which have brought this woman to this point, that Danielle Arbid tells the tale of Simple Passion [+see also:
interview: Danielle Arbid
film profile
, an adaptation of Annie Ernaux’s novel of the same name (published in 1992). It’s a very personal re-reading of the work, infused with the same (primarily carnal) intensity that tends to characterise the Lebanese filmmaker’s work, but also remaining true to the immersive and highly analytical approach favoured by the writer. And it’s a fusion of fire and water which allows French actress Laetitia Dosch to display her immense talent in a work which will leave no-one cold, not least the audience of the 68th San Sebastian Film Festival’s competition section, where the film (awarded the 73rd Cannes Film Festival’s Official Selection Label) has been unveiled.

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Indeed, whilst the potential for viewers to identify with the feverish state of the body and mind when caught in the spiral of sentimental addiction is unquestionable, a murky world where an intelligent woman willingly submits to the desires of a complicated and elusive man is in clear and very specific contrast with the Me Too era, even if a confidante of the protagonist does express an opposing viewpoint ("Depending on a man to live, to feel pleasure? It means you depend on him for everything, that’s unbearable"). In this sense, controversies can be expected, but this won’t detract from the superior level of cinematography on show in this work, which impressively transcends on-paper obstacles with ease, to tell this detailed account of the “banalities” of passion, from its dazzling highs to its cruel moments of expectation.

"I suddenly felt like I was weightless." Divorced university teacher Hélène is engaged in a torrid affair ("he has an amazing body, amazing buttocks") with Alexandre (Sergei Polunin), a Russian national working at the Paris-based embassy who she met by chance. She doesn’t discover a great deal more about this magnetic man of few words, and he alone is the one to decide when they can actually see each other (at her place, in the suburbs), forbidding her from ever contacting him. At the beginning, caught up in the ecstasy of their embraces, none of this matters to Hélène. But over time - and as suggested by a scene from Hiroshima My Love ("he will kiss me and I will be lost"), which she goes to the cinema to see with a friend who delivers a warning of her own ("Be careful, he’s married, he’ll eventually go back to Russia. You have to keep your feet on the ground") - her feelings grow and she slowly enters into the dark and toxic depths of excess, sacralisation and blind passion, neglecting everything, including her role as a mother…

A patient and methodical dissection of the various stages of psychological unravelling and sentimental unrest (from forgetting oneself and others to full-blown distraction, also by way of projection and obsession), Simple Passion paints a wonderful portrait of a woman wrestling with the strength of her desires.

Produced by French firm Les Films Pelléas and co-produced by Belgium’s Versus, Simple Passion is sold worldwide by Pyramide.

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(Translated from French)

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