In this brittle, bittersweet love story, French writer-director Stphane Briz (Not Here to Be Loved) uses restraint as a kind of dare. Stationing the camera at a safe remove and letting scenes run their course, it’s the sort of slow-burn romantic drama that asks its actors to bear the emotional brunt of the film—and its leads deliver. Jean (Lindon) is a construction worker whose contented family life is quietly disrupted when he meets his son’s schoolteacher, Veronique (Lindon’s real-life ex Kiberlain). She asks him to lecture the class on home building; he volunteers to repair her apartment’s loose window and gently goads her into playing the violin for him. They continually circle each other chastely, before closing in for a tender, conflicted embrace.
The couple’s anticipation is quickly eclipsed by a knowing, guilt-ridden sadness, exemplified by both Lindon’s soft, hungry eyes and Kiberlain’s arched, equine neck. Briz’s favoring of emotional reserve over melodramatic histrionics suits his characters’ tentativeness, but the film’s middle section recesses too far into forlorn gaping at the horizon. Mademoiselle Chambon stirs to life when Veronique decides to relocate, provoking Jean to make grand gestures and 11th-hour promises in an attempt to activate their affair. A train station finale is textbook tearjerker territory, but it still teems with exquisite sorrow.—Eric Hynes