Two of the finest Gallic thesps of their generation, Isabelle Huppert and Daniel Auteuil, give outstanding performances in "The Separation" as a couple whose relationship disintegrates over three months. Their characters, however, are such self-absorbed ciphers that it's likely few offshore viewers beyond hardcore Francophiles will care.

Two of the finest Gallic thesps of their generation, Isabelle Huppert and Daniel Auteuil, give outstanding performances in “The Separation” as a couple whose relationship disintegrates over three months. Their characters, however, are such self-absorbed ciphers that it’s likely few offshore viewers beyond hardcore Francophiles will care. This third feature by director Christian Vincent, whose bow, “La Discrete,” was a surprise hit back in 1990, plays like sub-Cassavetes on Quaaludes.

Anne (Huppert) and Pierre (Auteuil) live together in Paris and are parents of a 15-month-old boy, whom Pierre videotapes as part of his ongoing diary. Anne goes off to an unspecified job every day, and illustrator Pierre works on a children’s book. They frequently socialize with friends Victor and Claire, who provide comic relief as bumbling, leftover student radicals who are romantically involved but live apart.

Pierre senses something is bothering Anne, and one day she offhandedly announces she’s fallen in love with another guy. She doesn’t see why this should be hurtful to her current mate, or awkward for their home life, and proceeds to date her new (unseen) love interest while Pierre quietly goes to pieces.

As the title indicates, they eventually call it quits. Pierre, who’s done nothing that could be construed as “wrong,” loses his mate and his son. The end.

Gallic crix were divided over whether the pic, from a novel by Dan Franck, is a brilliant portrait of contemporary life or another superfluous entry in the intimate “look-ma-I’m-suffering” tradition.

Lots of lengthy close-up two-shots give the uncomfortable impression of eavesdropping on private exchanges. But as the pair aren’t given to talking about their problems, all their emotions remain cloaked in reasonableness, with silences and twitches taking the place of insightful dialogue.

Despite a thin plot, Huppert and Auteuil elevate the material to an often riveting plane. Auteuil is outstanding as Pierre, and Huppert, who’s cornered the market in smug and selfish, conveys these qualities with beauty and economy.

Occasional extracts from Glenn Gould performing Bach’s Goldberg Variations are the only music in the pic.

The Separation

French

Production

An AMLF release (France) of a Claude Berri presentation of a Renn Prods./France 2 Cinema/DA Films/CMV Prods. production, with participation of Canal Plus. Produced by Berri. Executive producer, Pierre Grunstein. Directed by Christian Vincent. Screenplay, Dan Franck, Vincent, based on Franck's novel.

Crew

Camera (color), Denis Lenoir; editor, Francois Ceppi; art direction, Christian Vallerin; costume design, Sylvie Gautrelet; sound, Claude Bertrand, Jean-Paul Loublier; casting, Frederique Moidon. Reviewed at 14 Juillet Odeon Cinema, Paris , Nov. 28, 1994. Running time:85 MIN.

With

Anne - Isabelle Huppert
Pierre - Daniel Auteuil
Victor - Jerome Deschamps
Claire - Karin Viard
Laurence - Laurence Lerel

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