Billed as the first film that Juliette Binoche and Vincent Lindon have appeared in together, it’s extremely unfortunate that Both Sides of the Blade is such a terrible film that doesn’t do justice to these two greats of French cinema. Both Sides of the Blade is unfortunately not the best work of any of the actors nor the director.
Originally screening in Australia at the Alliance Française French Film Festival 2022 under the title “Fire”, this film was released nationwide last week.
Director Claire Denis is a big fan of Binoche and Both Sides of the Blade is the third film for which she has been cast. Binoche has also appeared in Denis’ French language film Let the sunshine in and her English language film High Life.
Both Sides of the Blade sees Juliette Binoche in the role of Sara, a woman in a steamy relationship (portrayed right from the opening passionate ocean scenes) with Vincent Lindon’s character Jean. She finds herself torn when her former lover François (Grégoire Colin) comes back into her life after contacting Jean and giving him a job offer. For us, Sara’s desire for Jean wasn’t credible at all. He appeared creepy in every shot on screen. The use of menacing music as if to warn of danger every time he appeared was comical.
Both Sides of the Blade sees the two men in Binoche’s life act like little boys. The scene, shown in the trailer, where Lindon says “You had the angel. Now you’ll have the devil.” before he says “I’m going to destroy it all” and proceeds to upturn tables and smash ornaments is laughable. It felt like we were watching a teenager’s TV show, not a film from a respected French director with French actors of considerable experience and respect.
On the sidelines, we see Jean trying to re-establish a relationship with his son Marcus (Issa Periga), who he had from a previous relationship. Marcus lives with his grandmother and Jean’s mother, Nelly (Bulle Ogier). Again, the dialogue used in scenes between Jean and Marcus is laughable. It doesn’t flow and seems unrealistic.
There are uncomfortable close-ups on the character’s faces at particular scenes of Both Sides of the Blade but I’m not sure whether they had any intention other than to make the audience feel uncomfortable. It didn’t make me feel closer to or relate more to any of the characters.
Sara is a radio journalist interviewing people about the war in Beirut and the effect of race on people’s perceptions but these snippets seem completely out of place. Perhaps Denis intended to draw a comparison between Sara’s interviewees and the struggles of Jean’s son Marcus (his mother being French-African) but this isn’t fleshed out enough to make any clear point for it being there. Is it to show that Sara has a decent job and can be disciplined and logical despite her extreme visceral reaction to seeing her ex?
Binoche and Lindon did the best with the scripts they were given but Both Sides of the Blade are not going to be prize-winning performances. We are surprised that Claire Denis won the Silver Bear for Best Director for Both Sides of the Blade at the Berlin International Film Festival 2022 and now wonder which films this was up against.
Both Sides of the Blade was a COVID lockdown project. It only happened because Claire Denis was unable to film Stars at Noon with Robert Pattison in Nicaragua and Panama at the intended time. It is a film that was perhaps best left to the lockdown imaginings or to the pages of Chrstine Argot’s book Un tournant de la vie, from which it is adapted. Not having read the book, we are unable to discern whether this is an incredibly poor adaptation or whether the book itself too was unconvincingly written.
Audiences will flock to see the film purely because of Juliette Binoche and Vincent Lindon and because it was directed by Claire Denis. Unfortunately, most will be disappointed as those in the cinema when we attended were. Both Sides of the Blade is one to avoid.
Matilda Marseillaise was a guest of Palace Films.
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