An Impossible Love

Love is the subject of many films, but the intriguing question here is, what deems it impossible? 

At the start of the film we see luminously beautiful shy Rachel (Virgine Efira) being seduced by intriguing handsome Philippe (Niels Schneider), an intellectual narcissist who tries to control her from the very start, giving her Nietzsche to read.  Haven’t you heard of him, he asks. No, she giggles. From that moment we know we are in for an emotional roller-coaster.

They begin a passionate affair but from the get-go he tells her he has no intention of getting married, he needs his independence – and if he was ever to marry he would have to marry a rich girl, not someone whose father inexplicably has no money, despite having three bank accounts. Hard to believe that of a Jew. Not just a bastard, but an anti-Semitic one.

Rachel finds it impossible to say no to him, so deep is her passion. Au contraire, Philippe identifies their love not as marital, passionate but inevitable – which he justifies by telling her it i.e. he cannot be responsible for is consequences. When a baby, Chantal, is born, he disappears to Paris.

Rachel stoically accepts his reasoning but is determined that Chantal should try and know her father, and that he should give her his name; it is her only demand. ‘Father unknown’ on the marriage certificate is not acceptable. Her battles to get him to agree form a large part of the film and result in her offering up Chantal for her father’s approval in the hope he will be swayed into compliance. 

Back to love. At first it appears, by Philippe’s own definition, the impossible love is that between Philippe and Rachel but, as the film meanders through the story line and Chantal grows up, unhappy and resentful, we come to wonder whether the impossible love is rather that of a mother trying to do her best for her damaged fatherless daughter. As Phillippe’s darkness and endless betrayals take hold the tone of the film becomes menacing and troubling.

Efira is mesmerisingly beautiful as a young woman, radiating innocence and purity, a girl ready to be taken advantage of.  Her transformation over the 50-year span of the film into an old woman, from the make-up to the arthritic walk of old age, is quite remarkable. 

Similarly, with four actors used for Chantal (memorably Estelle Lescure as a teenager and Jehnny Beth as a young woman), we get a real sense of an unfolding story of Greek tragic proportions. Schneider’s smouldering dark looks render him the perfect baddie, the kind of man that women always fall for. How can Rachel tolerate his casual greeting after five years’ absence, ‘Bonjour Rachel’ followed by a couple of quick pecks on the cheek? She is believable, yet irritating, as an abused woman. It is hard to see why she is so acquiescent to his barbarity but, as we know, that is the nub of abusive relationships.

All the high-end critics loved this film, giving it four and five stars. But I am not one of those reviewers who look for art in everything. I go to the cinema to be entertained, moved and visually blown away.  Certainly An Impossible Love is cinematographically impressive and emotionally draining, but it is very French. By that I mean it is too long and rather self-indulgent in the way that some French art-house films can be. As I said to my companion, when the butt-cheeks go numb, you know that it is too long.

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