There are dozens of movies that trace the giddy beginnings, lukewarm middles and bitter endings of relationships; Maurice Pialat’s brutal, scathing antilove story dispenses with the first two chapters and dives headfirst into the painful third part. The amour between Jean (Yanne), a married filmmaker, and his assistant, Catherine (Jobert), already seems slightly curdled when we meet the couple, lounging around his claustrophobic apartment while bickering incessantly. Nasty, seemingly random episodes soon start to pile up: Jean screams at her, acts jealous, and gets violent and verbally abusive to the max. Catherine takes it, goes away, then comes back. She breaks up with him. He breaks up with her. Neither of them can stand each other. Neither of them can stand to be apart.
Based on Pialat’s own autobiographical novel—a fact that deepens both the viewing experience and the concurrent nausea—this sophomore feature from French cinema’s bastard son lays claim to his brilliance as a chronicler of, to paraphrase critic David Thomson, battered humanism. The emphasis is on the first word: By boiling a dysfunctional couple down to a worst-hits clip reel, the director created one painful autopsy of an affair, the polar opposite of those frolicking montages so prevalent in American rom-coms. (He’s also gave his actors a hell of a valentine; neither Yanne nor Jobert has ever been better.) It’s hard to watch but even harder to look away, and the eventual hope is that these two self-loathing people will turn the movie’s title into a promise. But Pialat makes the poison more attractive than the antidote. The notion that "love means never having to say you’re sorry" sits there bleeding, a stake right through its broken heart.
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