There is a difference between a small film and an intimate film. Mia Hansen-Løve’s (Eden) latest falls firmly in the latter category. It explores love, both romantic and familial, with no trace of drama or sappiness, and without ever feeling slight. It’s a balm of a film and another glorious showcase for the director’s light touch when dealing with complicated emotions.
Léa Seydoux plays Parisian single mum Sandra, a translator taking care of her daughter and her ageing father (veteran French actor Pascal Greggory), whose particular ailment has made him increasingly dependent on others. He’s a former philosophy professor, but we don’t get to know much more about him, except from Sandra and her mother’s memories of him and by gleaning clues from his extensive library.
Dealing with the devastating task of having to move him to a care facility (with the heartbreaking difficulty of finding a decent one within their means), Sandra moves through her life passively. She is mostly closed off to anyone beyond her family, until a chance encounter with an old friend, Clément (played by the dashing and floppy-haired Melvil Poupaud), sparks something that has been long dormant in her. He’s married with a son but their undeniable connection turns into an affair that reawakens Sandra to herself, her body and her desire for a connection that is her’s alone, and not borne out of duty.
Hansen-Løve explores love, both romantic and familial, with no trace of sappiness
But their affair is mostly governed by Clément’s availability, and the push and pull of their liaisons takes the conventional shape of an emotionally unavailable man who cannot commit to either leaving his wife or letting his mistress go. Yet Hansen-Løve’s ability to make characters who are simply trying to process their emotions so compelling keeps the whole thing from ever feeling seedy.
The easy chemistry between Seydoux and Poupaud is what our idealised idea of French romancing is built on. They move smoothly between conversations about planetary dust (Clément is a cosmo-chemist, a profession that sounds made up in a uniquely cinematic way) to sexy games of tag in a Parisian park. It’s in their moments together and in their goodbyes that Seydoux really shines as Sandra slowly, tentatively and sometimes painfully opens herself up to Clément. It’s these subtle moments of pure feeling that make the film shine.
Streaming on MUBI in the UK Jun 16.