Benoit Jacquot :: France :: 2008 :: 1h31
One lonely night, Ann (Isabelle Huppert) follows Thomas to the house of another woman. She sees them passionately kiss on the doorstep before they go in. Ann is left standing outside, half hidden behind a tree in the front garden in a residential suburb of Paris. It all looks so homely and yet it is not hers. She knows she has to leave Thomas. And she realises it is perhaps time to leave everything. Thomas. Her home. Her career as a concert pianist. Her mother. Just leave.
The tortured character of Ann, from Pascal Quignard’s novel, is one who wants to run, to disappear rather than fight and rebuild. As we watch her erase the traces of her Parisian life with Thomas, we wonder who this woman is. She is so selfish, cruel and harsh. We wonder what her relationship with Thomas could have looked like. There is clearly not much left of their love, if they ever shared it, which is perhaps what pushed him to the other woman in the first place. Their own house is cold as if there was never any warmth or love there. By the time we meet her old mother in Brittany, we can suspect that she might just be condemned to unhappiness if she does not take some radical action. But is running the solution?
We never really understand why she needs to erase all traces of her existence. Who does she think she needs to go into hiding for? Surely not for Thomas, I think he got the message when he was dumped. But then who? Her mother? She is no state to phone someone, let alone come searching for her. It can only be from one person – herself. By disappearing from the official radar, she expects to feel liberated. Liberated from a life she had grown into, because of herself, her parents and her brother’s death. Freed from the feelings she held, the habits she had and the pressure of others.
But when she discards her old skin and finds a breath-taking little corner of the world in which to retreat, traces of her old life remain. Music still calms her temperament, even if her preference goes out to a sharp estranging piano repertoire. And where first she used to swim madly to rinse herself of her life, once fled, she almost rinses herself out of existence to be reborn. She always had the tools she required to save herself, but they had never really served her. Fundamentally, she is a tragic character, throwing doubt even on her efforts.
There is something of a farce in the whole reinvention process as it is portrayed. As she runs, taking trains, busses and boats through changing landscapes and switching clothes, we find ourselves in an escape presented as a thriller. But we know that is not the case, creating a friction between the tense music and imagery and the reality of the story. This is a weakness which does not do the story justice. With an actress as beautiful and as talented as Isabelle Huppert, she could have carried the movie on images alone. Expect to be somewhat depressed by the whole adventure, but also touched by voyage. For, besides the very first scene, seeing Thomas on that suburban doorstep kissing another, all the rest could have just played in her head. As one big daydream, a fantasy of running, of another life. Far away. It is a beautiful movie, for that, and a depressing one, for that. It is one of those movies which is perhaps best watched alone. But you will need a big screen…