The review of The Russian Lover, a film based on the homonymous novel by Annie Ernaux which recounts the obsessive love between a French professor and a Russian diplomat.
Hélène, a literature professor, is a divorced woman and finds herself raising her son Paul alone, who is facing the difficult period of pre-adolescence. In addition, her mother is unable to give him the necessary attention as she has recently started a relationship with a young Russian diplomat, Alexandre. The boy is already married but this does not prevent him from going frequently to visit Hélène, who in the meantime begins to develop a real obsession for him.
As we tell you in the review of The Russian Lover, the protagonist would like to know more about her lover, but Alexandre always replies to questions with evasive sentences, to the point that Hélène begins to suspect that he may be a spy in the service of the Kremlin. When Alexandre mysteriously disappears into thin air, the woman gradually loses her reason and she seems to be proceeding on a road of no return …
Back to the origins
Annie Ernaux won a controversial Nobel Prize for Literature, often the subject of heated debate between fans of the writer and those who believe that he has been too generous. Certainly the French writer has published fascinating and divisive works throughout her career, as in the case of de The Russian Lover, short novel (just 77 pages) at the basis of the film here under investigation. In this adaptation for the big screen, which was originally supposed to be in competition at the Cannes Film Festival in the 2020 edition, then canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, not everything works in the transition from words to images and the screenplay often risks wrapped up on itself between dead times and excesses of sorts.
Annie Ernaux – My Super 8 Years, the review: the recovery of memory
The ways of eros
From the very first minutes, the Russian lover places the emphasis on the erotic component, with the naked bodies of the two protagonists intertwined in multiple positions: a boiling vehemence that is at times gratuitous in the continuous insistence on certain anatomical details, and also due to the length of the various “red light” scenes, in the name of an often insistent and almost never really necessary morbidity to the narrative outline. Where the screenplay becomes sharper is in outlining the obsessive traits of Hélène’s character, increasingly enveloped in a vortex of passion that obscures and erases her, causing her to lose contact with the outside world and also lose her role as a mother. so much so that on more than one occasion it is precisely that son who pays the price, who becomes a sort of annoyance for the romantic and lustful encounters between her and Alexandre.
Get out of the nightmare
The mystery context is left untraced and soon loses its bite: in the end it doesn’t matter to the viewer whether the lover is actually a spy in the service of the enemy or not, since the heart of the story focuses exclusively on this private bond, increasingly murky and raw. Even the protagonist’s out-of-town trip to Russia, accompanied by the notes and voice of Leonard Cohen, appears as a simple homework to perhaps definitively close that circle that was leading her to self-pity. At times, references to a certain Nouvelle Vague emerge in the care of the secondary characters and settings, and it is no coincidence that Hélène goes to the cinema to see a restored version of Hiroshima mon amour (1959), timeless masterpiece by Alain Resnais. Finally, a note of merit for the interpretation of Laetitia Dosch. If her colleague Sergei Polunin, a dancer on loan to the cinema, does not particularly shine, the French-Swiss actress is one with her character, convinced and convincing in a role that is not at all easy to manage.
The Lebanese director Danielle Arbid, who has always been an attentive explorer of the female universe, tries her hand at the controversial short novel published in 1991 by the Nobel Prize-winning writer Annie Ernaux. As we told you in the review of The Russian Lover, we are faced with an erotic film that also pushes excessively on sexual scenes, with the two protagonists engaged in torrid embraces that spare nothing of their naked bodies. However, only the good Laetitia Dosch is convincing even in terms of interpretation, while Sergei Polunin did not arrive: the French actress is the reason of greatest interest in an ambiguous and uncomfortable film, which convinces when she paints the obsessive apotheosis of the protagonist but elsewhere it is lost in free and discounted solutions, with an ever-present author’s gaze but on several occasions suffocated by uselessly hot climaxes.
Because we like it
- Laetitia Dosch is a magnificent protagonist.
- The screenplay convinces in the outline of a disruptive obsession…
- … but leaves too much room for the sexual component, which debases eroticism in favor of carnal embraces that hide nothing from the imagination.
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