Both Sides of the Blade

Both Sides of the Blade

2022, NR, 116 min. Directed by Claire Denis. Starring Juliette Binoche, Vincent Lindon, Grégoire Colin, Bulle Ogier, Issa Perica.

REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., July 15, 2022

Walking into her Paris office one day, Sara (Binoche) spies her ex-lover François (Colin), riding off on his motorcycle. The effect on Sara is immediate, an emotional lightning strike which leaves her reeling. And with that, the knife is unsheathed in Both Sides of the Blade (Avec amour et acharnement), the latest from filmmaker Denis, her second collaboration (after 2017’s Let the Sunshine In) with provocative French writer Christine Angot. The two are well matched in this adaptation of Angot’s novel Un tournant de la vie, as the author’s raw examinations of the human heart mixed with Denis’ lyrical, sensual images create a complex stew of emotional turbulence.

Having two powerhouse actors as the leads doesn’t hurt, either. Binoche is holding steady at the top of her game, and is utterly fearless as Sara, a woman torn between the past and the present. Equally, Vincent Lindon juggles tenderness, humility, and menace with such an uncanny ease, his unpredictability enhances what is already a steadily restless film. Lindon is Sara’s current boyfriend, Jean, an ex-con trying to get back on his feet after a 10-year stint in prison. Jean and Sara have a gentle, passionate relationship until Sara catches that glimpse of François. For not only were Sara and François previously entwined in a mercurial affaire de cœur, ex-rugby player Jean used to work for François’ company, scouting up-and-coming athletes. It is implied (Denis has never been very interested in explaining things) that Jean ended up in prison because of François, and now François has returned to Paris, wanting Jean to work for him again, while Sara grapples with her increasingly volatile state of mind as she oscillates between the two men. Add to that Jean’s son Marcus (Perica) from his previous marriage, who is flunking out of high school and hanging with the wrong crowd: a father’s fear of losing his son, as he attempts to prevent his lover from slipping away.

As a catalyst, François remains an enigma for much of the film, an imposing presence because of his absence. When he does step out of the background in the last third, it is a bit lackluster, if only for the passing thought of “This is the guy?!” But the heart wants what the heart wants, unless it’s Sara’s heart, which wants everything and nothing. Or something completely different. Human beings can be really complicated. And thankfully, there are filmmakers around like Claire Denis who make films such as Both Sides of the Blade to remind us of that complexity. Films that seemingly help us in trying to understand each other, but really show us that we might never be able to. Once again, it’s complicated. Denis, Angot, and co. aren’t merely mapping out a love triangle here, they’re wading around in fractal geometry.

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More Claire Denis Films
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Josh Kupecki, Oct. 14, 2022

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Both Sides of the Blade, Claire Denis, Juliette Binoche, Vincent Lindon, Grégoire Colin, Bulle Ogier, Issa Perica

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