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SEPARATION, LA(director/writer: Christian Vincent; screenwriter: Dan Franck; cinematographer: Denis Le Noir; editor: Francoise Ceppi; cast: Isabelle Huppert (Anne), Daniel Auteuil (Pierre), Louis Vincent (Loulou), Jerome Deschamps (Victor), Karin Viard (Claire), Laurence Lerel (Laurence), Nina Morato (Marie); Runtime: 88; AMLF; 1994-France)
“It avoids the use of clichés.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Pierre (Daniel Auteuil), a book illustrator, and Anne (Isabelle Huppert), a career professional woman, are about to become separated despite an apparently satisfactory marriage. They are an affluent couple living in a swell Parisian apartment, both of them nurturing all the love they possibly can muster for the centerpiece of their lives — their fifteen month old boy Loulou (Louis Vincent). The surprise comes when they are watching a film where Ingrid Bergman states: “We have to change our way of living.” Pierre tries to hold her hand, which she rebuffs saying she just wants to watch the movie. Outside the theater she stuns him further by saying she is in love with another man. And that’s the gist of the story line for this sophisticated and superbly acted romance story, that turns the tables on the old notion that the man controls the destiny of the household. Pierre is portrayed as someone who has done nothing ghastly to ruin the marriage and the couple still profess a love for each other, yet they are undergoing a separation.

Pierre doesn’t know quite how to respond except by showing how much his pride has been hurt. Anne’s reaction is to avoid eye contact, trying to console him gently, realizing how much she has hurt him. His quiet manner, hurt expression, and look of bewilderment, says it all. While, strangely enough, they try to carry on with life as usual in their apartment as their ideal nanny, Laurence (Laurence), minds the baby. After a few weeks of living like this, a rage starts to build and his jealousy starts to take over. He confides in his friend Victor (Deschamps) about how difficult it is for him and Victor is supportive, but there is little one can say that is eloquent in such situations.

“In a couple, one suffers and the other one’s bored, and vice versa.” This epigram, revealed near the beginning of La Separation and repeated near its end, explains in some way what has happened to their marriage. It now becomes a question if they can weather this storm and the bitterness that is so much a part of their love. A pivotal scene is when the verbal fighting, accusations and hitting take place between them that was really unexpected from this urbane couple, except we can see it building up and festering inside the stricken Pierre. He feels like a wounded animal who must strike back. When the 40-year-old Victor tells him that he is going to marry his long time live-in girlfriend Claire (Viard), he can’t even feel a joy for his friend’s decision as he is totally wrapped up in his own problems.

The director wisely doesn’t give us too much information about her lover or the details of their love life. We are left to fend for ourselves and see how uncommunicative they really are. At one point in the film we are told about a California woman who had no conversations with her husband so she miked their house and played back the tapes for divorce court, where she collected a bundle from her husband. Lack of communication is where we are going with this melodramatic romance story.

This is an intelligent film told from the point of view of the man, though this film is not as powerful as Paul Cox’s similar type of film “My First Wife.” Its huge plus, however, is that it avoids the use of clichés usually reserved for explaining why a couple is breaking up and plays up the small petty things in a relationship that strain one’s nerves. This is exemplified in the scene where Anne is forced to fly a kite, even when she tells her husband no. Her anger at him, brings home the point of how silly most fights are.

When Pierre appears to be almost reconciled to the fact that he has lost his wife and now eighteen month old child, he wistfully says: “I will now have to learn to live without you and Loulou.”

This marriage-go-round leaves off in familiar territory. Most of us know how it feels to be unsure of someone we love. It stings. This work is a testament to a confused couple who come to realize that they have to face their situation without covering it up.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”