Most helpful critical review
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 24 January 2015
I was hoping this film would be an understated gem, but sadly it just misses the mark. The acting is very good, both Vincent Lindon and Sandrine Kiberlain being outstanding and well matched, so the problem lies elsewhere. The film is a kind of reworking of Brief Encounter, but the comparison shows up the insipid direction of this effort. A middle-aged builder falls in love with his son's teacher, reciprocally, and finds himself completely overwhelmed, perhaps even more so because so little is said between any of the characters. Lindon does brilliantly with the role, but the visuals are, in the end, nothing more than pretty, and never cut through to match the intensity of the feelings. Some sort of visual equivalent is needed, particularly when nothing is said. The sense of place is minimal, the interiors bland - probably based to an extent on the Danish painter Hammershoi, whose poster the teacher has on her wall. But there is none of the magic of that artist's austerity. In terms of the way family life is shown, a feeling of banality is hard to escape, because the director Stephane Brize has not managed to get under the surface. In Brief Encounter the visuals are very strong, the dialogues and voice-over intense - the opposite of here. Another comparison might be with the recent German film Free Fall, where there is a parallel situation of the wife being pregnant. In that film the husband falls for another man. This in itself makes less difference than the much more full-on treatment, again with matching visual expression, so that by the end you really feel something. Here you just feel, as Barbara starts to sing on the soundtrack and the shot pulls away from a window enough for us to see a picturesque geranium in a pot, how much more could have been got into this. It is paper-thin where the actors, particularly Lindon, could have erupted like a volcano on the screen. Instead we are just left with the wind blowing through a few trees, and the feeling that the whole thing is too insubstantial.