"A Nos Amours" (To Our Loves) marks the stunning debut of French actress Sandrine Bonnaire, then aged 16. She plays 15-year old schoolgirl Suzanne who stands precariously on the cusp of womanhood. It is one of the more disturbing coming-of-age films to have been made in recent years. Maurice Pialat's film tracks an adolescent girl's descent into a cycle of sexual self-destruction. He doesn't give any reasons for it. He just shows what happens using disconnected snippets of her life; at summer camp, in school, at home and with her friends. Why she implodes is never explained but left to the viewer to work out.
We first see her at a Drama Camp where she is shown rehearsing Musset's play "Don't trifle with love" (On ne badine pas avec l'amour). She sneaks out in the evenings for trysts with her boyfriend Luc whom she coyly refuses to have sex with. Then on a whim she picks up an American tourist whom she beds. After the American's callous "wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am" (the polite nitwit actually says "thank you" after deflowering her), she retorts with a coldly cynical, "you're welcome, it's free," and there begins her spiral of destruction.
When she confesses her fling to Luc, he breaks up with her and she goes, as the blurb says, on a "sexual rampage," bedding practically anything with a pulse. Scene by scene, Pialat reveals her dysfunctional family; a father who adores her but cannot come to terms with the fact that his sweet little girl has grown into a woman; her weak, manipulative mother who resents her, especially the fact that her daughter is young and beautiful while she is old and no longer attractive even to her own husband; a tubby brother who is his mother's pet, who beats his sister regularly because the mother is unhappy with her, while at the same time showing a creepy sexual attraction to his sexy sibling. The most touching moments are between father and daughter; the dimple scene, where he notices that one of her childish dimples has vanished, his sad sigh about how time passes as he watches his daughter going out on a date which he knows will end up with his child in some boy's bedroom, and the final scene where he bids her farewell with his knowing, "you were not meant to love - you were meant to be loved."
A beautiful film, through and through. Painful and uncomfortable to watch at times. Not much of a traditional plot, no resolution and no explanations. Which will alienate 90% of the American audience but thought-provoking and quietly rewarding for those who care to sit through it and reflect afterwards. Sandrine Bonnaire in her interview gives the simplest explanation for her character's behaviour, that she was looking for someone in the image of her father and ultimately to be loved by him. French director Catherine Breillat also gives a fascinating insight into the film and particularly on why Pialat, without warning or consultation, changed the ending, with his character, the father, not dying as written in the original script but living long enough to send his daughter off on her metaphorical and actual journey to the new world.
This is a Criterion release so excellence is a given. The picture is presented in its original 1.66:1 widescreen, pillarboxed into an anamorphic 16:9 frame. Image quality is exquisite. Sound is in the original Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono and is crystal clear and full. As with any Criterion edition, this comes with copious scholarly extras, just over 2 hours worth on Disc 2. These include an hour-long 1999 French documentary "The Human Eye," exploring the film, its making, its significance and its meaning. This is followed by a 10 minute exerpt "Maurice Pialat On Set" from a 1983 French documentary "Etoiles et toiles." There are separate interviews with Sandrine Bonnaire, controversial French director, Catherine Breillat, and filmmaker Jean-Pierre Gorin who at the time of the interview was Professor of Film Studies at UCSD. There are 20 minutes worth of audition tapes for the various cast members, most of which also feature the fresh-faced Sandrine Bonnaire as she interacts with her costars. All the extras, save for the interview with Gorin, are in French with optional English subtitles provided. The DVD comes with an accompanying 36 page booklet, beautiflly illustrated, including interesting articles on the film and on director, Maurice Pialat. There are also transcripts of two interviews, one with Pialat and the other with cinematographer Jacques Loiseleux on the film and on film-making in general.
Note: There is occasional nudity but no explicit sex. Like most Criterion discs, it is not rated. However, if submitted, it would probably be given an R-rating, for strong sexual themes, nudity, family violence and language.