A secret threatens the romance between a vulnerable violinist and a moody model.
Things have changed since André Téchiné and Juliette Binoche last worked together on Rendez-vous, the backstage melodrama that brought him the Best Director prize at Cannes and her to international attention (even though she now finds it too painful to watch). Téchiné has, subsequently, concentrated on more intimate, personal films like Wild Reeds, while she, of course, went on to win an Oscar for her work in The English Patient. However, the intervening experiences serve only to heighten the stylistic acuity and emotional power of this intense character study.
A decade after being sent by his hairdresser mother (Maura) to live with his forbidding father (Pierre Maguelon), Martin (Loret) flees to Paris to find refuge with his gay actor stepbrother (Amalric) and his violinist flatmate, Alice (Binoche). Having risen to rapid, if rather specious, fame as a model, Martin makes a play for Alice, whose initial reluctance soon turns to genuine passion. However, the prospect of becoming a parent reawakens Martin's repressed sense of guilt at his own father's death and Alice has to fight to preserve his sanity.
Caught between naturalism and detachment, the individual and the ensemble, this is a film that's easier to admire than applaud. Aided by Caroline Champetier's crisp photography and a lovely score by Philippe Sarde, Téchiné establishes the sense of familial tension and emotional fragility with great assurance, as the action shuttles between south-west France, the capital and Spain.
However, he struggles to strike a balance between the performances, with the debuting Loret's disconcertion seeming merely sulky beside Binoche's more shaded delineation. Moreover, neither the romance nor the patricide feel rooted in reality, even after a protracted flashback designed to make Martin's psychological shifts more understandable.
Low key and curiously devoid of thematic density, this is confident, but rather soulless film-making.