A twentysomething Frenchwoman beds a sexy guy and then, in perhaps the world’s worst case of postcoital exhaustion, seems to wake up 15 years later in “Another Woman’s Life.” Inexplicably confronted with an all-consuming career, a marriage on the rocks and a young son caught in between, the protag of this directorial debut by thesp Sylvie Testud (“Sagan,” “Lourdes”) has to figure out how it all came to this, though the pic mostly favors histrionics and light comedy over psychological insight. With Juliette Binoche in the lead, this loose adaptation of Frederique Deghelt’s bestseller did polite numbers locally.
In the pic’s prologue, sprightly Gallic youngster Marie (Binoche), with an unflattering drowned-rat coiffure, applies for an entry-level job at the Cote d’Azur villa of high-finance whiz Dimitri Speranski (Vernon Dobtcheff). After her 26th birthday party, Marie ends up sleeping with Speranski’s handsome son, Paul (Mathieu Kassovitz), in a scene shot in suggestive and atmospheric closeups. But when Marie wakes up again, she’s in her early 40s, has a power haircut and finds herself in a plush Parisian pad that seems to have been constructed about two inches from the foot of the Eiffel Tower.
When she walks into the kitchen, a young boy (Yvi Dachary-Le Beon) calls her “Mommy.” With the help of the young’un, Marie finally works out that her life has jumped to 15 years later, and Paul is now her husband and the father of her child. She’s also become a big player in the financial sector, and is in business with her father-in-law, Dimitri, though even the simplest balance sheet now baffles her — and it’s not just the currency change from francs to Euros.
Early going isn’t interested in explaining the story’s conceit, but simply uses it as a starting point for some lightly humorous scenes in which Marie tries to get a grip on a world in which you can’t smoke indoors, a black man is the president of the United States, and Michael Jackson and a dear relative of Marie’s are dead. To her horror, she also discovers that her careerism has caused the now-withdrawn Paul, a comicbook artist, to file for divorce.
The comedy is hit-and-miss and, somewhat oddly, never placed in service of story or character development. And the screenplay, adapted by Testud (who is also an accomplished novelist), only slowly zooms in on its most interesting structural aspect, namely the fact that it can put the birth and death of a couple’s romance side-by-side. But since auds are as clueless as Marie about the intervening years, the change in her character remains invisible, making it hard to understand Paul’s reasons for divorcing this now youthful-acting and charmingly clueless woman.
This means an inordinate amount of emotional exposition falls on the actors. Binoche, still French cinema’s most exquisite crybaby at 48, emotes in extreme highs and lows, moving her character ever further away from realism and believability. In a rare onscreen appearance, thesp-turned-helmer Kassovitz goes the opposite route, remaining so subdued his character almost passes unnoticed. And limning their offspring, Dachary-Le Beon is more often mannered than natural. Though the players are partly let down by a screenplay that doesn’t provide them with sufficient midrange tones, their sharply contrasting styles suggest Testud, though a great thesp, is a tone-deaf director of actors.
Assembly is in line with contempo commercial French production, though the pic itself inhabits a strange kind of no man’s land between arthouse and mainstream.