Review: A Love Story (2013)

Director: Hélène Fillières | 80 minutes | drama | Actors: Benoît Poelvoorde, Laetitia Casta, Richard Bohringer, Reda Kateb, Hervé Sogne, Jean-François Stévenin, Philippe Nahon, Vicky Krieps, Véronique Fauconnet, Gintare Parulyte, Laurence Streitz, Shiva Gholamianzadeh, Laure Roldan, Pierre Leccia Werncia, Jeannecia Woldan Tarot, Nils Moreau, Albert Jeunehomme

Is it a coincidence that a film like ‘Une histoire d’amour’ appears after the immense success of sm-bestseller “Fifty shades of gray”? Certainly, but it is special. What seems very unlikely is that anyone will be turned on by the sex seen in this movie. Rarely has the act been portrayed so coldly and depressingly. The title ‘Une histoire d’amour’ (a love story) should therefore be taken with a grain of salt …

In ‘Une histoire d’amour’ it is about a young woman (Laetitia Casta). This lady meets a banker (Benoît Poelvoorde) with whom she starts an SM affair. The woman’s husband (Richard Bohringer) knows about her slipper, but is silent about it. This triangular relationship is taking on increasingly strange shapes. Until the bomb bursts.

No character in this movie has a name. There must have been an artistic reason for this, but it prevents you from building a relationship with the characters. That is almost impossible anyway, because none of them are likeable. ‘Une histoire d’amour’ is a cold film about relationships, communication (or especially the lack of it) and sex. The sex scenes are awkward, raw and chilly. Sex is nothing beautiful, but a pastime in this movie. A way to kill minutes and feel some. Whatever the emotion it is: as long as it is something. These dull people want confirmation of their existence and know that they are alive. Pain is also a sign of life. There will no doubt be a deeper meaning in this feature film debut by Hélène Fillières, but it does not surface.

Do not expect a bite-sized chunk, but a fragmentarily told story in which you get to know the characters step by step. Although ‘knowing’ is too big a word, because the motives of these people never come to the fore. The banker wants to be subdued and longs for pain, but the reason for this is not clear. The young woman wants love, but why she looks for it in older men is not explained. Why her husband accepts the cheating and looks at it resignedly, is not clarified either. A film should stimulate, but you do need tools for that. They are not given in this non-chronological narration. The leap in time does not make it any clearer. A shame, because there is a good film in ‘Une histoire d’amour’. Unfortunately, it does not come out.

The acting is very strong. Especially the Flemish comedian Benoît Poelvoorde plays a phenomenal role. His character is craving love but doesn’t know how to ask. He confuses power and abuse with affection. When he is beaten with a whip, he experiences a form of happiness, but that does not fully please him either. The desperate search for security is portrayed very well. Poelvoorde plays a modest role and arouses both disgust and pity. The clumsy banker is incredibly hard and mean to the young woman, but deep down there is a broken human being screaming for love. Why he came to be like that, you will not find out.

Casta is also good and her chemistry with Poelvoorde is very strong. When these two are together, the movie comes alive. The atmosphere becomes sweltering and ominous. You just feel that this must end badly because these two people shouldn’t be together. They are destructive and destroy each other. Still, Casta is not the right actress for this movie, because she is too beautiful for this role. What gets this young woman (with the looks of a fashion model – which is no coincidence since Casta is too) to hang out with old men? Poelvoorde has an unremarkable appearance and looks like a typical middle-aged man, while her film man (Bohringer) is in his seventies. It looks too artificial. In addition, her modeling run (self-aware and as if she is on the catwalk) is very distracting. Also the SM relationship (which seems to come from one side, because the woman herself seems to take little or no pleasure in it) comes across as unconvincing. Why the woman keeps going back to the banker – who treats her so rude – is not clear either. Finally, Bohringer comes off poorly. His role is very small and his character is very passive. He lets everything take over and does nothing. It’s not bad, but it’s not worth mentioning either.

Une histoire d’amour has turned into an interesting failure. There is a tragic love story in this film, but it does not surface. Instead, you are stuck with a fragmentary tale of a couple who sexually humiliates and destroys each other. There is no love. Only from lust and pain. Because you don’t bond with the characters, the film remains distant and cold. The strong acting by Poelvoorde in particular and the threatening soundtrack are certainly worthwhile, but cannot hide the many flaws. The cast deserved a better script. With better editing and tighter direction, this could have been a (really) good film.

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