Petites coupures

Director: Pascal Bonitzer

France-U.K.| 2003. English subtitles. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 95 mins.

Another day, another splendid Daniel Auteuil performance. If he makes it look so effortless, it’s not only down to his considerable technical command, but that rare quality of attracting our empathy before he even opens his mouth. Here he’s Paris-based communist journalist Bruno, not quite detached from his wife (Emmanuelle Devos), yet not really committed to his much younger girlfriend (Ludivine Sagnier of Swimming Pool). Auteuil adeptly draws our understanding for this apparently feckless individual, holding the attention throughout as a trip across France sends him deeper into uncharted emotional territory. Answering a call for help from his politician uncle (Jean Yanne) takes him into the countryside near Grenoble, where the task of delivering an important letter to the old man’s romantic rival brings a disorienting encounter with the volatile Beatrice (Kristin Scott Thomas).
As perhaps befits a former Cahiers du cinema editor and frequent collaborator with Jacques Rivette, writer-director Pascal Bonitzer is fascinated by the uncertainties of the journey. Certainly, his third feature is a tantalisingly playful affair (the letter’s a classic Hitchcockian McGuffin), which places its protagonist’s ideological insecurities-who’d be a communist after the collapse of the Eastern Bloc?-within an increasingly dreamlike narrative context, as the already reeling Auteuil finds himself in a forest, up a mountain, in the potentially life-changing company of Scott Thomas, who brings a uniquely brittle intensity to her role as a wayward spouse thrown by her own unruly emotions. With John Scott’s rich orchestral score saturating the proceedings in romantic unease, it’s a witty, elegant and very French exploration of the unexpected potency of transient anxieties and longings.

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