Maurice Pialat was a master at peeling away layers of human respectability in order to shed light on the vagaries of heart and mind. But unlike Michael Haneke or Ulrich Seidl – present day directors with a similar gift and disposition, Pialat’s film language is altogether raw, immediate, and unrehearsed – it’s an extravagant offshoot of cinema vérité, where realism is accentuated with intense melodrama.
His teenage ennui-themed “À nos amours” [Eng. Title: To Our Romance] also saw the début of the remarkable and beautiful Sandrine Bonnaire. At sixteen, she plays the protagonist of a same age, undergoing changes not only owing to hormones, but also turbulence in a barely functional family. Suzanne (Sandrine Bonnaire) is an intelligent girl with an independent streak. Despite being raised in a strict family with old-fashioned values, she is sexually active and unable to stay loyal to anyone, often having casual encounters with strangers and friends alike. A tipping point arrives when her workaholic dad (played by Maurice Pialat himself) decides to leave home. With a psychotic mother (Evelyne Ker) going through depression, the underachieving elder brother Robert (Dominique Besnehard) takes charge of the household, and forces Suzanne to comply with rules that disallow late nights and casual affairs. The physical abuse endured in the hands of the mother-son duo will only increase her rebelliousness, often reflected in her frequent change of lovers, and despite realising the hurt it causes.
What Suzanne is seeking, through her various encounters, is the person who had meant to her the most – her dad – probably the only person she’d ever loved, and whose approval she craves. In the process, she impulsively rejects a boy who was in love with her, and marries another in order to conform to family custom (who loves her too, by the way). We’ll know later that Suzanne had stayed in touch with her father all the time, and they were the only two in the family who actually communicated, and accepted each other despite their differences. He will also be the one who sees off Suzanne at the airport when she leaves her husband to fly to California…
The storyline suggests gloom and misery, but that’s beside the point as far as Pialat is concerned. His intention is not to make his audience feel good but to reflect on the human condition and the manufactured values in society. He achieves that through captivating cinema, offering deep insight into reasons for people’s choices and actions. With a minimal script, significant moments within the film have been improvised by bringing the actors out of their comfort zone and forcing them to react using their own natural instincts, while still staying in character. The recommended 2-DVD Eureka set features some excellent extras, including an insightful interview with Sandrine Bonnaire – conducted a few months after Maurice Pialat’s death, screen tests conducted before the shoot, and also an exhaustive interview with the great man himself. I consider this Pialat’s finest film and worthy of the awarded César – it is Highly Recommended Viewing..!
Amazon 2-DVD Link [PAL] (Recommended)
The Nudity: Sandrine Bonnaire and Pierre-Loup Rajot
Pialat was extremely protective of Ms. Bonnaire during the shoot, obviously because of her age, due to which sex is not depicted in the film despite her character’s promiscuity – the scenes happen either before or after sex. But the situation also offered the director greater scope to examine the motive for her character’s actions, and the resulting reactions. Pierre-Loup Rajot appears as one of her lovers (Bernard), and his scenes are the only ones that feature male nudity.