REVIEW “Both Sides of the Blade” are dull

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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/ Avec amour et acharnement

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?

Both sides of the blade/ avec amour et acharnement

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.

2.5 CROISSANTS

Matilda Marseillaise was a guest of Palace Films.

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One last chance to see The Passengers of the Night at MIFF tonight

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The Passengers of the Night (Les Passagers de la Nuit) is a film from Mikhaël Hers. It’s been doing the film festival circuits and is currently screening at the Melbourne International Film Festival (as well as streaming on its online platform MIFF Play). It also screened at the Sydney Film Festival recently.

The Passengers of the Night

The Passengers of the Night takes place over 3 distinct years: starting in 1981 on the night of Mitterand’s election win, moving later to 1984 and then later again to 1988.

 

The film starts on the night of Francois Mitterand’s 1981 election win with people celebrating in the streets of Paris. We see a young girl with a rucksack on her back alone in the metro station as trains fly by. We also see Charlotte Gainsbourg driving a car with her teenaged son, Matthias played by Quito Rayon-Richter (who has also been in Dark Hart of the Forest (Le Coeur noir des forets), and daughter Judith played by Megan Northam, through the celebratory crowds. Back at their apartment, Charlotte Gainsbourg’s character Élisabeth listens to the late-night radio as she looks out the window at the surrounding large apartment and office buildings. The radio host welcomes her “passagers de la nuit” (passengers of the night).

 

We then skip ahead to 1984 where we see two boys racing each other on their bikes. One is Élisabeth’s son, Matthias who has been more and more absent at school even when he is there. Élisabeth is struggling financially, telling her Dad she needs to find a job. He unhelpfully tells her “you’ve never had one”. The odds are seemingly against this single mother whose ex has run off to move in with his mistress.

Vanda and Élisabeth Les Passagers de la nuit
Vanda and Élisabeth

 

It is here that Vanda (played by Emmanuelle Béart), host of the same late-night radio show that Élisabeth was listening to 3 years earlier, comes in. After reading her heart-felt and frank letter, Vanda gives Élisabeth a chance offering her a trial job fielding people on the phone line who will share their stories on air. In turn, Élisabeth offers Talulah played by Noée Abita (who was nominated for the Most Promising Actress César for the AFFFF 20222 film Slalom), a teenager living on the streets of Paris (the same girl we saw in the metro station in the opening scene) a place to stay.

 

While at first Élisabeth’s teenaged children are sceptical about their mother taking this girl in – wondering how she could even know such a person – they soon begin to form a bond with Talulah and take her under their wings. The scene where Matthias and his friend encounter Talulah for the first time is particularly amusing. But Talulah’s issues start to creep up, and this sudden closeness feel uncomfortable for her. She feels lost, telling Élisabeth “j’appartiens à nulle part” (I don’t belong anywhere), and suddenly, from night to morning Talulah disappears.

Matthias and Talulah

 

The Passengers of the Night is interspersed with archival footage of late 70s and early 80s Paris, with images of the former metro trains. These images can be distinguished by the frame change as well as their grainy quality. Combined with the soundtrack perfectly curated to the 80s, we are transported to 80s Paris.

 

Charlotte Gainsbourg is impressive as struggling single mother, breast cancer survivor Élisabeth. Equally impressive is Noée Abita as Talulah. Seeing her in this role makes us want to see her other films. Quito Rayon-Richter as the distracted, hormone-driven Matthias is also worthy of mention. Megan Northam doesn’t appear on screen as much as her brother’s character but we would also like to see more of her.

 

Perhaps at its core, The Passengers of the Night is about giving people a chance. A film showing the reality of life as a single mother with teenaged kids; those same young adults also learn to give Talulah a chance, just as their mother did.

3.5 CROISSANTS

Matilda Marseillaise watched a digital screener of The Passengers of the Night (Les Passagers de la Nuit) for the purposes of this review.

 

There is one screening of The Passengers of the Night remaining: tonight at 6:30pm. It is also available to rent digitally via the MIFF Play platform. Access for both the in cinema screening and the digital rental via this link.

 

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