An intimate portrait of a doomed marriage, French director Damien Odoul’s second feature, “Errance,” has some of the same unsettling intensity and visual power as his strange and striking debut “Deep Breath,” but the approach here feels more self-conscious. The dark drama is seriously undermined by a failure to sketch even a history of harmony or untroubled affection in the central relationship, making material that should be devastating instead unemotional. A bruised but finely measured performance from model-turned-actress Laetitia Casta represents the chief commercial asset in what will otherwise be a marginal fest entry.
Unfolding in three time periods demarcated by their respective location in the countryside, on the Mediterranean coast and in the city, the story starts in 1968 in France’s Gevaudan region, as young wife Lou (Casta) undergoes a difficult labor during the birth of her first child. The arrival of her drunken husband Jacques (Benoit Magimel) and the disapproval of Lou’s family indicate that the marriage already is plagued by problems. When Lou discovers Jacques’ infidelity soon after, he promises a fresh start.
They move in 1972 to the sun-drenched Cote d’Azur, where Lou literally lightens up, going from brunette to blonde. But happiness is short-lived. While Jacques gets a real estate job, he seems no less a boozing philanderer, his weaknesses aggravated by the unstable people around him. Lou bravely sticks it out, but when Jacques is caught skimming cash from work, he explodes, hastening their breakup. Final section jumps ahead a year, when Lou has taken Jacques back.
Working again with “Deep Breath” d.p. Pascale Granel, Odoul displays a distinctive eye and skill with visual observation, honing in on telling details. But the director’s economy in this area is countered by a tendency toward overdramatic bombast. The film starts out on the brink of hysteria and has nowhere to build, deadening the impact of the concluding tragedy.
Biggest problem, however, is the development of Jacques. Looking paunchy and sallow, Magimel (“The Piano Teacher”) is physically convincing, but his character is such a volatile, unsympathetic loser that the audience cannot fathom what drew Lou to him in the first place. And while Casta gently balances her character’s bitter contempt with love and loyalty, Lou’s willingness to stand by such an irredeemable hothead proves more frustrating than touching. Echoing the film’s air of auteurist self-importance, Odoul cameos briefly as a killer.