Also with: Anais Jenneret, Petra Berndt, Claudine Auger, Rolf Illig, Laszlo I. Kish, Shirley Henderson, Hanns Zischler, Barbara Jones.
PARIS –“Salt On Our Skin” is an old-fashioned weepie about mismatched lovers whose rare, passionate encounters over the course of 30 years make both their lives worth living. A sometimes ragged cross between “Back Street” and Ms. magazine, romantic but borderline-silly pic’s best bet is femme auds, although Andrew Birkin’s film could also click as a date movie for couples not given to cynicism.
The worldly, privileged daughter of a French mother and a Scots father, George (Greta Scacchi) attends school in Paris but spends each summer in Scotland, home to manly but untutored Gavin (Vincent D’Onofrio). A moonlit swim as teenagers cements the raw erotic connection that grips them forever after, although their paths diverge.
Couple’s odyssey is told in flashback and v.o. by the 40ish Scacchi. Refreshing twist here is that independent Scacchi follows her heart as well as her intellect. A heroine but not a tragic one, she’s a self-sufficient, reasonably fulfilled woman who makes informed decisions and has few regrets.
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Shortly after discovering true ecstasy in D’Onofrio’s arms in the late 1950s, Scacchi discovers Camus, Sartre and — bingo! — Simone de Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex.”
When D’Onofrio proposes, Scacchi assures him it could never work: She’s a restless intellectual, he’s a hunky fisherman, and a future cannot be built on sex alone. They part but end up trysting every so often over the years.
For viewers loathe to make a leap of faith, the way the film is packaged makes it easy to scoff at the duo’s relationship, but the touchstone of their undiminished passion carries things along.
Based on Benoite Groult’s 1988 bestseller, which was hailed for its frank descriptions of female sexual desire, conventional pic relies on the two leads’ personalities and does not innovate. Scacchi and D’Onofrio give game, likable perfs, and the heat and devotion between the real-life couple are convincing.
Scacchi successfully affects a slight French inflection, and D’Onofrio’s Scots accent sounds fine. Styling and period costumes are not quite good enough to pass thesps off as teens, but pic demands that the same actors play the roles throughout.
Scenes in which the lovers are reunited play better than the filler between reunions. (George pursues an international academic career in the blossoming field of women’s studies, and the feminist upheaval of the 1970s is condensed into one brash colleague conducting “orgasmology” research.)
Voice-overs are sometimes stilted and literary. George ridicules Gavin when he resorts to cliches — a charge from which the postcard-like widescreen lensing in Paris, Scotland, Montreal and the British Virgin Islands does not always steer clear. Score could be more nuanced.