As is the case with any movie about strained relationships Both Sides of the Blade is often challenging to watch.
Thanks to the performance of its two stars, this French drama is even more emotionally exhausting than most.
Juliette Binoche is fearless as Sara, a woman torn between her current and past lover. Her performance is matched by Vincent Lindon as her partner Jean.
At first Sara seems to have the perfect life. The successful radio journalist has been with Jean for nearly a decade. The opening scene of the movie would suggest it’s a very loving and happy relationship.
Then on her way to work Sara sees her former lover François (Grégoire Colin) in the distance. Her physical and emotional reactions suggest she’s definitely not over him.
Jean’s life isn’t so idyllic although he’s obviously very much in love with Sara. He has been to jail and since his release has struggled to find work.
He also has a difficult relationship with Marcus (Issa Perica), his teenage son from an earlier marriage, who lives with Jean’s mother Nellie (Bulle Ogier) in the suburbs outside Paris.
Marcus’ mother, who is black, has started a new life and wants nothing to do with her son while Jean seems to avoid spending time with the teenager. Marcus’ rebellious behaviour is causing Nellie great concern resulting in numerous phone calls to Jean.
When Sara tells Jean of her distant sighting of Francois the atmosphere between them changes. The reason we discover is Francois and Jean used to be colleagues and the three were best friends. There’s also a hint that Francois may have had something to do with Jean’s criminal conviction although the reason for his jailing is never explained.
The relationship is further strained when Francois offers Jean a job at his new sports talent agency. It’s Jean’s dream job but both Sara and Jean realise it would eventually result in Francois and Sara meeting up again.
Needless to say when the ex-lovers do meet long-repressed memories and desires come surging back. The impact of this is devastating for both Sara and Jean. Binoche’s and Lindon’s portrayal of this devastation adds to the impact of Both Sides of the Blade.
Their words and physical actions clearly show the changing dynamics between the two as a relationship full of love, tenderness and mutually satisfying sex becomes increasingly angry, confrontational and emotionally destructive.
Numerous close-up shots from director Claire Denis ensure audiences are left in no doubt about the thoughts and feelings of Sara and Jean and the impacts of their ever increasing and heated arguments. Their facial expressions are often more revealing than the words they utter, as they struggle to be honest with each other
While Denis looks to explore some of the world’s social issues through the interviews Sara conducts as part of her radio show and Marcus’ struggle in modern day France, Both Sides of the Blade is primarily about the emotional toll of one woman seemingly in love with two men.
Both Sides of the Blade opens in cinemas around Australia on September 1.
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