BOTH SIDES OF THE BLADE (Avec amour et acharnement)(France 2022) ***1/2
Directed by Claire Denis
BOTH SIDES OF THE BLADE (original English title: FIRE) follows a couple who have been together for 10 years and still very much in love. They go on holiday, are still pretty much into each other and show much affection and love. But there is trouble in paradise. Into the scene returns Jean’s old work colleague, Francois (Gregoire Colin) offering him a job that he clearly needs. Jean had been in prison for an undisclosed crime and has trouble getting work. But Francois is previously Sara's lover.
Nothing much happens during the first third of the film. It appears that director Denis is working beneath her abilities having tackled tricker subjects in the past with films like BEAU TRAVAIL and CHOCOLAT. But one has to be patient. What appears to be thematic melodrama turns out to be something quite different in the hands of French auteur Claire Denis, one of the most respected French directors living today. Denis is the no-nonsense type director as many journalists who have interviewed her in the past can attest. She is a difficult subject who says it as it is. BOTH SIDES OF THE BLADE is a sharp cutting look at the insides of a relationship, of how one can be torn cut open and torn apart.
Denis knows how to set up drama. The most moving segment is the one where a son rejects a father’s visit. Jean had cancelled an important meeting with Jean and drove 3 hours in heavy traffic to see his son Francois who is living with Jean’s mother. But Francois does not want to see him. Returning home, can cries and is comforted by Sara. This is one tremendously moving scene that will move one to tears. It also shows the strength of the couple's relationship in which sympathy is paramount.
It also helps that Denis’ film stars two of France’s finest actors - Juliette Binoche (Academy Award Winner for THE ENGLISH PATIENT) and Vincent Lindon. They also make the movie delivering superb performances.
BOTH SIDE OF THE BLADE opens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, known to bring the best of world cinema to Toronto. BOTH SIDES OF THE BLADE is indeed one of the world’s best cinema.