On almost every conceivable level, Je l’Aimais (I loved her/him) seemed designed to set my teeth on edge. Following the well-worn theme of so many French movies, this film appeared at first to center on an adulterous love affair told from the male perspective, with secondary female characters who are all impossibly neurotic and a mistress who is impossibly glamorous, impossibly elusive, and, yes, impossibly neurotic.
Indeed, when the long-suffering Christiane Millet, who seems to specialize in playing long-suffering but blandly bourgeois wives, is wheeled out in this movie to play Daniel Auteuil’s (wait for it) long-suffering but blandly bourgeois wife, my critical pen was poised to rip this movie to shreds and consign it to the sadly increasing pile of disappointing French movies reviewed on these virtual pages in recent years.
Yet, somehow, Je l’Aimais manages to transcend all these obstacles. It is a sometimes amusing, often harrowing meditation on the messiness of human relationships.
Framed by the story of Pierre (Auteuil) taking his daughter-in-law Chloé (Florence Loiret-Caille) and her two young daughters to a country retreat just after she has been abandoned by her husband (Pierre’s son), the movie takes interesting and surprising turns. Instead of concentrating exclusively on Chloé’s attempt to come to terms with her plight, coupled with her understandably awkward relationship with her father-in-law, director Zabou Breitman concentrates largely on flashbacks as Pierre tells Chloé of his own unhappy marriage and his passion for Mathilde (Marie-Josée Croze), whom he met when on a business trip to Hong Kong.
Much of the action in the film, which is based on the novel of the same name by Anna Gavalda, takes place in the Far East as the two lovers meet furtively for frustratingly brief encounters in various hotels. Many of these scenes reminded me of the best sequences from Sophia Ford-Coppola’s Lost in Translation. And indeed, Mathilde is herself a translator who travels between different countries in the Far East. The alienation of these two Westerners is beautifully captured by the film’s director of photography, Michel Amathieu, as are the various cities they find themselves in.
Auteuil, who has a justifiably high reputation as an actor, despite some of the turkeys he has appeared in, is magnificent and ably supported by Croze and Loiret-Caille. Although he is emotionally restrained for much of the film, he plays his one moment of breakdown near the end with heart-wrenching honesty.
Some spectators may find the film’s ending rather too glib, but overall Breitman does not flinch from portraying both the reality and romance of illicit love affairs.Favorite