Both Sides of the Blade (Avec amour et acharnement)

Directed by: Claire Denis
Distributed by: Wild Bunch

Written by Michael Clawson

“Both Sides of the Blade” opens on a summery, luxuriously intimate scene: middle-aged lovers Jean and Sara are swimming together in an ocean beneath a bright sun, wrapping themselves in each other’s arms as crystal-clear blue water shimmers around them. It’s a startlingly radiant image of a love that appears intensely and passionately assured of itself. The relationship proves to have its fault lines, however, as Jean and Sara’s vacation ends, they return home to Paris, and a person from their shared past remerges, sending the movie into colder, moodier territory.

If the sensuousness of the filmmaking on display isn’t enough of a giveaway, the film’s cast would surely tip you off to the fact that it’s a movie from the great Claire Denis. Juliette Binoche and Vincent Lindon play Sara and Jean, while Grégoire Colin plays François, Sara’s ex and a former friend of Jean from before Jean did a prison stint. An emotionally charged love triangle takes shape as François reenters Jean and Sara’s lives, rekindling feelings in Sara that perhaps never quite went away after she and François split years ago. Two other familiar faces from Denis’s filmography are Mati Diop and Lola Créton, both of whom have small roles. Bulle Ogier shines as a supporting player in the role of Jean’s mother, who takes care of Jean’s son from a previous relationship.

A slow-burn melodrama that often vibrates like a thriller, “Both Sides of the Blade” draws much of its power from the raw emotion put forth by Lindon and Binoche. Denis’ confidence in their abilities is apparent in her frequent use of close-ups, which adds to a sense of compression already felt through the confined space of Jean and Sara’s apartment, where much of the story unfolds. It’s a searing depiction of the messiness of love, insecurity, and regret, not unlike a Pialat film in its explosiveness and blistering immediacy.

“Both Sides of the Blade” Trailer

Michael Clawson is a member of the Seattle Film Critic Society you can follow his passion for film on Letterboxd.

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