25 March 2011

Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble (1972), Maurice Pialat

This is a difficult film to discuss, much less watch. The violence of the verbal (and emotional) abuse is such that lovers of (500) Days of Summer or even Scenes From A Marriage would have cause to hesitate before proceeding. Pialat’s own A nos amours is somewhat more manageable than this film despite the former’s more explosive violence. One may have to be a masochist to watch all of Pialat’s more emotionally wrenching work, but none more so than Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble. The saving grace of the film, however, is its acting. As Pialat’s second film, the performances he elicited from Jean Yanne and Marlène Jobert – raw, focused, and intelligent – bespeak of a talented director who knows what he wants from his actors. It’s remarkable that the acting – looking ahead to A nos amours – is this good and the themes to surface in later Pialat films already so present. This isn’t a bad start for a sophomore feature effort, especially such a revealing one. Jean Yanne’s Jean is based to large degree on Pialat himself and one is pressed to think of a more unflattering portrayal of a director’s fictional self. The typical scene of the film involves Yanne’s Jean and Jobert’s Catherine conversing then falling into an argument, Jean brutally insulting Catherine (who takes the words often with little demurral), and the scene ending. Repeat this formula for most of the picture. Yanne is the most active element of the film so one can easily tire of him. He is also an asshole and his behavior is quickly alienating. The question of how and why Catherine tolerates him for so long is never answered. She has no friends in whom to confide so little insight is given to her reasoning. (Domestic abuse social workers can find much of use in this film as the question of why smart women stay with bad men puzzles society now as much as then.) The interactions between her and Jean are those of hunter and victim. (It’s almost hard to believe that the same year saw the release of Eric Rohmer’s L'Amour l'après-midi.) One could see Jean and Catherine as a commentary on the contemporary French couple, but this depressing prospect is avoided upon consideration of the autobiographical aspect of the proceedings. (That the difficult model for Jean later directed a film about Van Gogh is hardly surprising.) The depiction of Jean and Catehrine’s relationship is harrowing, but the heart of the film is Jean himself. Lashing out abusively, he is the victim of his own violent anger and looks all the more pathetic for focusing on a woman not nearly as bad as he professes her to be. Catherine takes so long to leave Jean that it becomes evident that the film has been indicting Jean the entire time rather than waiting for Catherine to finally take action. Added to this is the documentary fashion of the mise-en-scene that adds to the rawness of the picture. Yanne’s performance is so uninhibited that it eventually lacerates his character. Jean never really changes as much as he grinds down. By the end of the film, the audience is shown Catherine for the last time to resolutely indicate what Jean is missing by not having her anymore and that she has moved on to a better place in life. That the film can document the entire relationship so unflinchingly is a testament to Pialat as much as the actors. He returned to this territory again in Loulou with the more sympathetic Gerard Depardieu, but here it seems that Pialat had a major personal burden to unloose first. While the film is often difficult to watch, it has a consistent tone and impressive mastery that is sustained in Pialat’s following work. This is not a film for everyone (or even every Pialat enthusiast), but it remains an impressive chapter in Pialat’s career nonetheless.

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