If you’re looking at this feature in search of an original narrative, keep going. It’s the characters, and by extension the actors, that make this drama work. Directed and co-written by Pialat and claiming to be semi-autobiographical, there’s no shying away from our preconceptions of what Parisians are or are not, something that proves immensely rewarding.
The plot begins as Nelly (Isabelle Huppert) falls for for Loulou (Gérard Depardieu) after meeting him in a nightclub. An ordinary girl with a mysterious side, she finds herself infatuated at first sight. A whirlwind affair begins but before long Nelly’s husband Andre (Guy Marchand) discovers her infidelities and attempts to win her back. This takes a dark turn as he begins to beat her, his own frustrations and dissatisfaction becoming increasingly obvious. Despite his actions, we are tempted to sympathise with the husband.
Meanwhile, Nelly begins to wonder why Loulou cannot find a job. Depardieu portrays a brutish schmoozer who drifts easily from place to place, trading on his masochistic sexuality. Nelly’s husband helps her find work in an advertising agency, appealing to her independent streak in an attempt to recapture her attention. Meanwhile that affair continues with Loulou funding it in its entirety, hotel rooms and all, through Nelly’s newfound income. It’s not until Nelly falls pregnant that their incompatibility and his modus operandi become obvious to her.
Piliat illustrates the contradictions and complexities of adult life with ease and the frequent use of handheld cameras draws the viewer into scenes very effectively. Although sometimes appearing haphazard, the sense of realism and confrontation presented to the viewer through drop-ins and close ups cement the viewer into the plot.
This was Pialat’s sixth feature in a career that took both the director and lead actors to enormous heights both on screen and behind the camera. While the story can be called out for its shortcomings, superbly emotional performances and excellent direction make right the wrongs; the end result being a sensitive exploration of the search for true love which well-earned a nomination for the Palme d’Or in 1980.
- Barry Monahan, Film Writer
This article originally appeared in Volume 29, Issue 7 released Tuesday February 2nd 2016.