Monthly Archives: July 2022

Claire Denis’s BOTH SIDES OF THE BLADE

Reviewed for www.cinefile.info:

Claire Denis’s BOTH SIDES OF THE BLADE (France)

Gene Siskel Film Center – Check Venue website for showtimes

BOTH SIDES OF THE BLADE is lots of things at once, many of them contradictory: it’s a quintessential Claire Denis film that doesn’t look much like her previous work, a romantic melodrama that unfolds like a thriller, and a singularly upsetting experience that stands as one of the finest movies of 2022. It’s also a potent examination of the theme of “the past coming back,” which makes it a kissing cousin of such otherwise disparate films as Jacques Tourneur’s OUT OF THE PAST (1947) and David Cronenberg’s A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (2005). In all three movies, the protagonists’ lives are turned upside down by the unexpected re-appearance of someone they used to know, whose return forces them not just to deal with unresolved issues but to regress into the people they used to be, whether they like it or not. In Denis’s film, Sara (Juliette Binoche) is a radio host in a seemingly idyllic nine-year relationship with her live-in boyfriend, Jean (Vincent Lindon), an unemployed ex-rugby player and ex-con. A wordless six-minute introductory scene shows the lovers frolicking at the beach before returning home and making love, a bravura sequence that recalls the wordless montage that begins Eric Rohmer’s A TALE OF WINTER (1992). This picturesque depiction of blissful couplehood, however, is undercut by the ominous rumble of low strings on the soundtrack, which give way to the haunting sound of minor chords being plucked on an acoustic guitar (the superb score is, of course, by the Tindersticks). Shortly afterwards, Sara spies her ex-lover—and Jean’s old friend—Francois (Gregoire Colin), in the street for the first time in years, and the very sight of him causes her to convulse with emotion. As Sara and Francois resume their affair, Denis and co-screenwriter Christine Angot (on whose novel the film is based) gradually, masterfully dole out information that fleshes out the backstories of the three main characters while some narrative details remain tantalizingly vague (e.g. the reason Jean went to prison is never explained). For long stretches, the cinematic language of BOTH SIDES OF THE BLADE feels more conventional than in Denis’s other films, probably so she can put the focus squarely on the anguished emotions—especially in two extended verbal arguments between Sara and Jean, the Cassavettesian emotional rawness of which gives two of the world’s greatest actors some of their most indelible onscreen moments. This makes all the more effective the few “poetic” touches more typical of Denis that are shrewdly sprinkled throughout the movie: the first reunion scene between Sara and Francois, for instance, is full of dreamy close-ups and sensual camera moves reminiscent of FRIDAY NIGHT (2002), although here they are fittingly played in a more sinister register. The earlier film celebrates a guilt-free one-night stand between two strangers who come together by chance; the newer one shows how desire, when intertwined with guilt and lies, can tear apart two people who ostensibly know each other well. BOTH SIDES OF THE BLADE is a searing portrait of middle-aged intimacy made by a woman old and wise enough to know that love can sometimes be a motherfucker. (2022, 116 min, DCP Digital) [Michael Glover Smith]


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Rear Window (Hitchcock) – A+
2. North By Northwest (Hitchcock) – A
3. Devil in a Blue Dress (Franklin) – A-
4. Both Sides of the Blade (Denis) – A
5. Out of the Past (Tourneur) – A+
6. Citizen Kane (Welles) – A+
7. The Great Muppet Caper (Henson) – B+
8. The Lady Eve (Sturges) – A+
9. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Wiene) – A+
10. Colorado Territory (Walsh) – A


July RELATIVE Screenings in Chicago

7.09.22: RELATIVE will screen at Chicago Filmmakers in Edgewater on Saturday, July 9 at 7pm, followed by a Q&A with me and actress Elizabeth Stam, moderated by critic Cati Glidewell (The Blonde in Front). For tickets to this screening, visit here.

7.17.22: 
RELATIVE will screen at the New 400 in Rogers Park on Sunday, July 17 at 3pm, followed by a Q&A with me and actresses Emily Lape and Heather Chrisler, moderated by critic Don Shanahan (https://www.everymoviehasalesson.com/) and a walking tour of some of the film’s locations. A portion of the proceeds will benefit P.O. Box Collective. For tickets to this screening, visit here.


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