Below is Julien Gahyde, played by Mathieu Amalric. He’s a married man with a child, and he lives in southwest France, near the coast. He owns a John Deere Farm Equipment dealership.
This is Delphine Gahyde, played by Lea Drucker. She is Julien’s wife. She is basically a homemaker.
Julien and Delphine have a big house out in the country. They dote on their daughter, Suzanne, and all three have the look and appearance of a happy family.
We will see them enjoying a vacation to a beach resort, and at another time of year – their home is decorated for the Christmas season, and we take note that Julien is happy to drive his daughter to school in the mornings.
So for all intents and purposes, they are a happy family.
This is where we first meet Julien.
It is a hotel room. And this is where the film begins. Julien is having a delightful afternoon. As is his partner. She is Esther Despierre, played by Stephanie Cleau. She is the local pharmacist’s wife.
We next meet Julien as he is apparently being interviewed by the local magistrate, who seems more like a district attorney or ADA. And then another interview with a staff psychiatrist. As Julien puts it – this is the sixth or seventh time – why?
So we are faced with a dilemma – clearly we don’t have all the facts. The film is directed by Mathieu Amalric, who once upon a time (2008) starred as a James Bond villain in the film Quantum of Solace. Here he not only directs, he also co-wrote the screenplay, and he stars as Julien.
Simply, this is a story of an affair, and the aftermath.
The unusual, and appealing thing of it is, is that Amalric lets out the story, only a little bit at a time, and in a method that seems quite far away from what we might call or label – a sequential narrative.
In fact – without giving the story away in this review, Amalric does give out the entire story, without any specifics, within the first six minutes – only he teases us – first with images away from the principals – like the hotel corridor, the tossed about sheets, the keys on a night stand, as well as the sounds of lovemaking.
But then he’s being interviewed – the questions are strange – does she often bite you?
Is it during sex?
We watch and again the images tell or should give us hints. There is a dossier filled with police documents. There other people in the room and we see that some are uniformed gendarmes – police officers.
We cut back to the hotel room, and back to the interviews – basically we are seeing events in three locations, with cross cuts from one to another. And as I stated above – we haven’t all the facts yet.
Little by little, Amalric, and his co-screeplay author Stephanie Cleau, who also plays Julien’s lover Esther, take their time in revealing the details that eventually do clear away much of the mist and the fog of what has happened.
It is as if the film has been placed out in view, in pieces, on a table, much like a photo jig-saw puzzle, We can see the pieces, and we can make assumptions so we can mentally assemble them, but only at the rate of the director’s choosing. It is less of an unsolvable puzzle; instead we can figure out what has happened – that is – in the broad strokes – but we lack details.
For many of you – there will be the pleasures derived by the craftmanship of the images – so carefully planned and set up. Surely this is a delightful film visually. And for others of you – you might chafe at the methods because you want a more structured and sequential narrative.
We watch and there are enough visual clues for us to know what has happened. But we don’t know exactly. Was there one crime, or was it two or even three? We assume facts not yet explained. As we should, like the documents with headings that tell much without telling the specifics.
The location of the characters tell us even more. We marvel at the passion and we mentally attempt to urge the story forward. But Amalric and Cleau want things their way – they strive to make us guess, and figure out what things are ahead, and yet to be revealed.
And there’s the fun of the film. Based on a story by Georges Simenon, a famed mystery writer, the film inverts the mystery structure. The usual criminal story structure could be a who-done-it, or we know who did it, and the film approaches the case from the perspective of how a detective uncovers evidence piece by piece until the perpetrator is trapped and confesses.
This time – we have the why, the who, the where, and eventually the when – all without having the what.
Filmed in a 4:3 format rather than 16:9, the film is still exquisite visually. And this film is rather short – it wraps up in an unhurried seventy-six minutes.
I’ll rate the film at three-point seven five, and recommend it. Yes, unless you are fluent in French, it will be an experience in reading subtitles. Available via Netflix streaming – this is a vibrant film of the elements of an affair – and to borrow a dining experience metaphor, the various courses are delivered in an unexpected and unusual way. As if to say, the appetizers, salads, soups, main entrees, and even the desserts aren’t brought out as you might expect. Bon appetite!