Maurice Pialat’s clear-eyed examination of a miserable, inexplicable six-year affair, one of his most acclaimed titles, is like Strindberg for dullards. Poor Jean Yanne is (quite properly) physically repulsive as the casually married documentarian (you keep thinking his arm hair will graft onto his bed partner) contentedly stuck in an abusive relationship with younger, less sophisticated Marlène Jobert. He’s addicted to her and doesn’t know it; she’s working thru self-esteem issues. Every encounter rapidly descends into altercation or parting: Sometimes she leaves; sometimes he literally throws her out. It’s all meant to be brutally honest, with purposely drab lensing, crabbed compositions, jumpy continuity and a faux improvised feel to the perfs. (Like Cassavetes without the gloss of Method Acting Seminars.) Occasionally, the staging is so whacky & stiff (as when Yanne meets up with Jobert’s polite, but seething parents), you wonder if Pialat is trying for some sort of embarrassed comic effect. But, no, that’d be real Strindberg, Pialat is too serious for such trivialities.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Pialat’s first feature, L’ENFANCE NUE/’68 or POLICE/’85 are valuable pics, nearly as good as the abstract humanism of an early short L’AMOUR EXISTE/’60 (on DVD w/ NUE).