Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle La Separation

By Marc Savlov

JANUARY 19, 1999: 

D: Christian Vincent; with Isabelle Huppert, Daniel Auteuil, Jerome Deschamps. (Not Rated, 89 min.)

Nobody exports heartbreak like the French. This subdued, icy-cool tale of emotional meltdown and bitter acrimony among otherwise sane adults should hit home with anyone who's ever been put through the meat grinder o' luv. Those yet to experience the snarky bite of that proverbial dog from hell, however, might want to steer clear: Nothing deflates Cupidian idealism faster than a heaping helping of Franco-Angst. Huppert and Auteuil play Anne and Pierre, a young couple with a 15-month-old kiddo in the crib and a bulwark of resentment and miscommunication in their hearts. Pierre, oblivious to the obvious, begins to suspect all might not be right in his relationship when his partner oddly refuses his hand during a night out at the movies. Tensions escalate on Anne's side as her beau marches on in silent fright, videotaping their sleeping son, chatting up his best friend Victor (Deschamps) for pitifully inaccurate advice, and generally moving forward without going anywhere at all. It's after a night out at a friend's flat that she turns to him while walking to the car and bluntly states she has "fallen in love with someone else." Rightfully taken aback, Pierre queries her as to the whys and wherefores of her indiscretion; all he gets in return is the cold shoulder and some mumbled "it's not me, it's you" palaver. Emotionally adrift, Pierre orders her out, then decides it's he who should vacate the couple's apartment, and moves off to take up space on Victor's couch. Vincent's film is remarkable not for what it says but for what it doesn't. Who is the other man? Why, exactly, has Anne strayed from home base? What's up with Pierre and the leggy nanny? Both director and cast are mum on all three; La Separation takes place in an informational vacuum that mirrors the dead air in the hearts of these (supposedly) longtime lovers. Huppert acts the shrike here, all grimacy pouts and silent, brooding recriminations. Auteuil, for his part, wanders shell-shocked through the film, his stubbly, hollow-eyed face a mask of bewildered betrayal. He wears the same expression Casablanca's Rick wore on the train platform when Ilsa failed to show, and he wears it for the entire film. Unmarried, Anne seeks out a lawyer and informs Pierre that "he's mine -- you can visit him every other weekend." She's speaking of the pair's child, of course, but she might as well be referring to the poor guy's heart. He's a wreck. Resorting to long walks through the Parisian streets (he gets lost) and the odd semi-physical spat, Pierre is a man spiritually eviscerated, and though Vincent refuses to assign blame to this horrid familial implosion, the message is clear enough: Love is bad news, even when it seems good. Trés Français.
3.5 stars

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