The second film on our #TIFF20 schedule has taken a turn for the worse. Danielle Arbid (‘Parisienne‘) takes on Annie Ernaux’s autobiographical fiction novel that focuses intensively and almost exclusively on the passion our protagonist has for a man with whom she has an affair. Once one of the hottest books in France, now one of the worst films I’ve seen this year. Pardon my French.

Basically, it’s about a mother who finds herself getting more and more obsessed with the Russian diplomat she’s having an affair with, but with whom she has nothing in common. Alexandre (Sergei Polunin – ‘The White Crow‘) is working in Paris, and becomes the object of Hélène’s (Laetitia Dosch – ‘Les Apparances‘) passion, but it is just that passion that keeps their connection somewhat “alive”. Hélène’s passion for Alexandre is deep and intense, almost and entirely like an overwhelming teenage crush. Everything she does revolves around her clandestine affair with Alexandre. Because he is married she can only rarely see him, and neither text nor call him. She is dependent on him, and questions his every move by interrogating him before or after every shag. You’d almost forget she has a teenage son walking around, oh right, she doesn’t seem to care.

Their passion covers the full spectrum, from adoration and worship to jealousy and fear. But that’s just where Arbid complete loses control and turns the film into a cheap looking 90s porno (which counts no less than eight sex scenes), with the most forced story line you can imagine. If only ‘Passion Simple‘ was a tiny bit more interesting, but even the way everything is poorly constructed in terms of cinematography, editing, awful choice of music and annoying close ups of thrusting hips, hands disappearing between thighs and repetitive scenes in the same boring locations, that are just as uninspired as the choice of outfits, it still wouldn’t have been possible to save this film from crashing.

Is it in a way realistic that a person becomes enamored with a lover until they realize they can’t be together because life doesn’t always go as planned? Sure. But why make it so dull and insufferable, while Hélène is clearly suffering through some mental struggles that could count for a more interesting viewing. The saving grace of the film is Dosch, who really tries her best to show the pain and suffering of her character, without turning into a caricature too much herself. It’s also not very hard to outshine Polunin, who has the same dead look on his face for the entirety of the film, and doesn’t even bother to put any effort in delivering his lines. The ending wraps it up nicely, though it is perhaps too easy an out, and loses all emotional effect it could’ve had when Arbid decides to play The Flying Pickets’ 1983 hit ‘Only You’ over the final minutes of the film.

Once again, a book fails to translate to the big screen. Even if it’s only loosely based on the written story, I have to wonder who ‘Passion Simple‘ was made for in the first place. Perhaps a generation who grew up with the Emmanuelle-collection can find a redeeming factor in what I would personally label as “DOA”.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

TIFF20 Review – ‘Passion Simple’

Reviewed online (as part of Toronto International Film Festival), September 9, 2020. Rating: TBC. Running time: 96 min.

PRODUCTION: A Les Films Pelléas production. Producer: David Thion. Executive producer: Anna Bochkareva.

CREW: Director: Danielle Arbid. Screenplay: Danielle Arbid (based on the novel by Annie Ernaux. Cinematography: Pascale Granel.

WITH: Laetitia Dosch, Sergei Polunin, Caroline Ducey, Grégoire Colin.

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