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article imageReview: TIFF retrospective screens Maurice Pialat’s most successful film Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Oct 28, 2015 in Entertainment
TIFF’s retrospective, “Love Exists: The Films of Maurice Pialat,” is a comprehensive look at the unsentimental French director’s body of work and includes his most successful picture.
French cinema is historically a source of visceral narratives that don’t shy away from provocative subjects. Although director Maurice Pialat struck out at and from his contemporaries, the former painter was undoubtedly a product of the zeitgeist. His fascination with sexuality, Parisian families and tyrannical male figures underlies most of his work and is a reflection of many other French filmmakers; while his realist approach has often been compared to John Cassavetes. The TIFF retrospective, “Love Exists: The Films of Maurice Pialat,” demonstrates the many ways Pialat tackled these subjects in his films, though his most successful would be À nos amours.
Suzanne (Sandrine Bonnaire) is 16 years old and feeling oppressed by the various forces in her life. She often skips classes and shirks her other responsibilities, grappling with an inescapable restlessness. When her father (Pialat) abandons their family, leaving Suzanne with her ineffectual mother (Evelyne Ker) and domineering brother (Dominique Besnehard), she begins an aggressive search for distraction. Convinced she can’t love anyone, she drifts from one sex partner to the next crediting these physical encounters as her only source of happiness. But all pleasure is fleeting and no one person seems capable of giving Suzanne what she desires.
This raw family drama is composed of explosive interactions that frequently turn shockingly violent. Suzanne regularly argues with her unstable mother who favours secret interference over direct confrontations. Her brother embraces his new role as “man of the house” and believes corporal punishment is the best way to get through to his sister. In the meantime, Suzanne seeks the love she doesn’t get at home in the arms of various men, pursuing an increasingly promiscuous lifestyle. These affairs never to seem last long, though Suzanne always appears completely enamoured with her current beau. However the important thing to note is she is not being victimized by any of her sexual partners. She’s a capable young woman cognizant of her choices and participating in wholly consensual relationships – it’s not often a young woman is permitted to be overtly sexual without any negative undertones.
A scene from  À nos amours
A scene from 'À nos amours'
Janus Films
Even though it was Bonnaire’s first feature, the movie would launch the 17-year-old actress to international fame. Her layered performance is so genuine and true to character, whether caressing a lover or chastising her mother’s behaviour. She seems to have an exceptional understanding of her character’s internal struggles and how to convey them to the audience in any given scene. Based on descriptions of Pialat’s conduct on set, the coarseness he displays on screen was probably not a stretch for the director. His unexpected reappearance during a celebration is one of the film’s most vehement scenes in spite of it remaining mostly casual.
The film won the Prix Louis-Delluc and César Award for best film, and Bonnaire was also awarded the César Award for Most Promising Actress. It screens as part of the Pialat program in Toronto, as well as in retrospectives at the MOMI (the Museum of the Moving Image) in New York and the Harvard Film Archive in Cambridge, MA. “Love Exists: The Films of Maurice Pialat” runs from Oct. 22 to Dec. 5 at TIFF Bell Lightbox.
Director: Maurice Pialat
Starring: Sandrine Bonnaire, Maurice Pialat and Christophe Odent
More about Maurice Pialat, A nos amours, Sandrine Bonnaire, tiff bell lightbox, Love Exists The Films of Maurice Pialat
 
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