Review: ‘Beware of My Love’

With its controversial mix of ultra-steamy action and violence, there is no question that "Beware of My Love" will attract attention; if anything, this sexy psychodrama is precisely what North Americans used to love in Gallic cinema. Helmer Jeanne Labrune has created an emotionally wrenching pic that takes a fresh, far from politically correct look at a woman's near-fatal attraction to a dangerously unbalanced guy. Pic, anchored by a standout performance from veteran French thesp Nathalie Baye, will almost certainly elicit strong response in France and could click with film buffs in the U.S.But it will require an adventurous distrib to take on the racy material and potential backlash surrounding a film about a woman who keeps coming back for more abuse --- both physical and psychic --- from her lover.

With its controversial mix of ultra-steamy action and violence, there is no question that “Beware of My Love” will attract attention; if anything, this sexy psychodrama is precisely what North Americans used to love in Gallic cinema. Helmer Jeanne Labrune has created an emotionally wrenching pic that takes a fresh, far from politically correct look at a woman’s near-fatal attraction to a dangerously unbalanced guy. Pic, anchored by a standout performance from veteran French thesp Nathalie Baye, will almost certainly elicit strong response in France and could click with film buffs in the U.S.But it will require an adventurous distrib to take on the racy material and potential backlash surrounding a film about a woman who keeps coming back for more abuse — both physical and psychic — from her lover.

This latest variant on the strangers-on-a-train yarn opens with Samuel (Daniel Duval) staring lasciviously at Muriel (Baye), who is curled up sleeping in her train compartment. When she comes to, the arrogant Samuel begins pestering her with personal questions and they spar verbally for a couple of moments. It looks to be an inauspicious beginning of the relationship, and they soon part ways when Muriel hops off the train at her stop.

Soon enough, the persistent Samuel is calling her up at home, announcing that he’ll be popping ’round with coffee and croissants. Before you can say “petit dejeuner,” they’re vigorously having sex on the floor of Muriel’s chic Paris apartment, in the first of many fairly hot scenes featuring some imaginative sexual acrobatics. Muriel, a successful novelist and screenwriter, has just been dumped by an older lover, and she clearly enjoys the edgy physical side of this new relationship. She feels a seemingly irresistible attraction to the brutish, penniless carpet salesman, but, at the same time, she is frightened by the more psychotic elements of his unhinged personality.

One of the strengths of the pic is that Labrune doesn’t skate around the complexities of the emotional dynamic. Samuel is a bit of a madman, but he also has his tender moments and is in some ways weaker than Muriel. Intriguingly, it’s Muriel’s strong character that turns Samuel on; he likes the notion that she can stand up to his psychic assault. Some female viewers may well object to the film’s portrayal of an abusive relationship in which the woman is an active, willing participant, but it is precisely that nuanced, unorthodox take on the topic that gives the film its power.

Baye holds the pic together with a wonderful performance that’s emotionally convincing and appropriately sensual. Duval is also absolutely right for his role, with enough nocturnal charisma to make it believable that someone like Muriel would fall for him in such a big way. There is great chemistry between the two, both in and out of the bedroom.

The film is shot in naturalistic style, and Andre Neau’s lensing captures the flavor of the streets and bistros of Paris. Music is used sparingly in the pic, and includes an excerpt from electro composer Philip Glass’ opera “Einstein on the Beach.”

Beware of My Love

(DRAMA -- FRENCH)

Production

A Rezo Films production. (International sales: Intermedia Arc Pictures, London.) Produced by Jean-Michel Rey, Philippe Liegeois. Directed, written by Jeanne Labrune.

Crew

Camera (color), Andre Neau; editor, Guy Lecorne; music, Philip Glass, Richard Strauss; art director, Emile Ghigo; costumes, Anne Schotte; sound, Eric Devulder; assistant director, Fabienne Chauveau; casting, Brigitte Moidon. Reviewed at World Film Festival, Montreal (competing), Aug. 29, 1998. Running time: 110 MIN.

With

Muriel ..... Nathalie Baye Samuel ..... Daniel Duval Nicolas ..... Hubert Saint Macary
With: Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Philippe Khorsand, Elisabeth Commelin, Michel Danieli, Saida Bekkouche, Philippe Cariou, Vincent Nemeth.
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