thu 20/06/2024

An Impossible Love review - toxic romance across the years | reviews, news & interviews

An Impossible Love review - toxic romance across the years

An Impossible Love review - toxic romance across the years

French drama charts the intolerable relationship of author's parents

Virginie Efira and Niels Schneider star as the doomed lovers

This is a love that begins sweetly, turns terrible, and is told with unflinching directness.

Directed by Catherine Corsini, An Impossible Love is based on a novel by Christine Angot (known in France, and increasingly elsewhere, for her powerful autobiographical fiction), which is in turn based on Angot’s own troubling early life and family experiences. If the film is too direct – an anti-melodrama melodrama – it is only because it is honest and treats emotional extremes with great fidelity.

It all begins with romance, as Rachel (Virginie Efira) – working class, Jewish and beautiful – meets the cultured Philippe (Niels Schneider) in their office canteen. Rachel, ashamed at the failure of a previous engagement, is attracted to Philippe’s confidence and experience. He is a traveller and connoisseur who eats oysters and reads Nietzsche. The way in which details about Philippe are revealed, and the early hints of how he treats women – he tells Rachel off for using certain phrases that could “handicap her socially” – put a sinister shade behind his charm. The film goes on to explore how impossibly dark those shades can become.

Philippe defines the terms of their love by asserting three kinds of relationship: marital love, passionate love, and the inevitable encounter. His romance with Rachel falls, for him, into the last category, giving it a spontaneity that allows him to justify inexcusable behaviour. Because their romance exists beyond the conventional social order, so can his acts. For him, any wrongdoing was simply bound to happen. He was never going to marry Rachel, he says, or acknowledge the child, Chantal, that he fathers with her. Wasn’t Rachel to know this? The film is narrated by Chantal as an adult looking back on the story of her parents. This creates a mood of loss and contributes to the sense that everything that happened was fated. 

An Impossible Love

Witnessing Rachel’s stoicism in the face of appalling mistreatment is both unbearable and unbelievable. Philippe returns to her life at intervals as Rachel and Chantal live and grow together. Philippe is the same casually domineering patriarch every time. Rachel’s humility – which is a kind of sweet affliction she cannot abolish – prevents her from demanding more support from Philippe. All she can ask for is that he acknowledges Chantal legally as his own. But Rachel clearly mourns the lack of a normal father for her daughter, just as Chantal criticises Rachel for trying to call them a “family”. What develops from this conundrum is the most heartbreaking relationship: the unclassifiable love between distant father and impressionable daughter.

An Impossible Love is an unbearably sad film dotted with brief glissando-like moments of sweet, sunny reprieve. A more constant joy in the film are the power of the performances, particularly that of Estelle Lescure as the adolescent Chantal, and of course Virginie Efira as Rachel. The love between these two characters – or the female experience of love, more broadly – is where Corsini’s eye is most acutely focused, and she takes us there with candour, integrity and overwhelming emotion.

An unbearably sad film dotted with brief glissando-like moments of sweet, sunny reprieve


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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