A married woman in her 40s falls passionately in love with a man 20 years younger in this sophomore directorial effort by actress Brigitte Rouan. A bold and quite beautiful “Brief Encounter” for the 90s, the film explores well-charted territory but with a freshness and passion that’s invigorating. This should be a good bet for quality arthouse distribs and, with favorable reviews, could have strong appeal, especially to femme viewers.
Rouan’s first feature as director, “Outremer” (1990), dealt with familial and romantic problems in a post-colonial setting. Her second feature is set in Paris with the director herself taking the central role of Diane Clovier, a 40-ish wife and mother who works for a small publishing house. She loves her lawyer husband, Philippe (Patrick Chesnais), and her sons, and she’s good at her work. But everything falls apart when she meets 20-something Emilio (Boris Terral), a handsome, outgoing, utterly charming and quite amoral type who works for an aid agency.
Throwing caution to the wind, Diane enters into a passionate love affair that is so fulfilling she is almost deranged with desire and love. Emilio seems at first to be equally besotted. Diane begins taking crazy risks to meet with her lover, and Philippe inevitably starts to suspect something’s wrong. An overheard telephone conversation on Christmas Day confirms his suspicions, but, though deeply troubled, Philippe says nothing, hoping the passion will pass.
Diane jeopardizes not only her marriage but her job. She takes Emilio with her to Prague when she’s supposed to be on business, and keeps her boss and his clients waiting for hours while she and Emilio make love.
In complete contrast to Diane’s reckless euphoria is the plight of Mme. Lepluche (veteran Francoise Arnoul), a woman Philippe is defending on a murder charge. She has killed her philandering husband by stabbing him with a fork, ending years of humiliation and deception.
Rarely has amour fou been as graphically and deliriously played onscreen as in this handsomely produced film, and Rouan herself participates in some fairly steamy sexual encounters with her lithe co-star. Yet the film’s in-depth analysis of this woman’s needs and long-repressed yearnings insures that pic isn’t exploitative. Diane may be foolhardy, and blind to the hurt she’s causing her family, but she’s also terribly human, and Rouan’s fine, warts-and-all performance explores every nuance of the character.
In support, Chesnais is touching as the betrayed but patient husband, Terral exudes the required animal magnetism as the young lover, and Nils Tavernier is solid as a writer who helps Diane survive when, inevitably, the affair ends.
Pic closes on a note of optimism, but doesn’t shy away from the wreckage that Diane’s intemperate behavior has caused her family. Understandably, Rouan unfolds this love story, which is told with warmth and humor, almost entirely from Diane’s perspective; viewers will make up their own minds about her behavior.
The Latin title comes from the Roman poet Ovid, and refers to post-coital depression.