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Sunday, March 22, 2015

CIFF Movie Review: If You Don't, I Will

One of the hardest things about really getting invested in a relationship is the vulnerability it brings. Sure, there's the nice stuff, the life you build and share together. But the flip side of that is that there's someone out there who knows you, who understands you on a deeper level than many of your friends and family will ever really get a chance to. And they can use that to hurt or anger you, even if they don't fully intend to do so. In If You Don't, I Will, writer/director Sophie Fillières brings together frequently-paired French stars Emmanuelle Devos and Mathieu Amalric as a Pomme and Pierre, a married couple who have gotten so used to pressing those buttons in one another, it's become their default method of communication. 

There's still some small affection there, of course, and the Amalric and Devos have tremendous chemistry that makes their relationship easy to understand. But the passive aggressive sniping doesn't ever stop, and it doesn't take long to realize that these two are genuinely hurting one another. All the little arguments finally come to a head on a routine Saturday afternoon hike, as Pomme and Pierre split up. Pierre, confident that this is just a casual spat on his wife's part, leaves with the car keys. Pomme, recovering from a recent surgery and frustrated by the way her husband treats her and seemingly everyone, leaves with the hiking supplies and food. Neither seems totally willing to believe the other will go through with leaving, even after both do so.

Fillières dialogue is phenomenal; indeed, the darkly comic bickering between Amalric and Devos that defines the film's opening half is frankly a joy. But Pierre and Pomme aren't cartoon characters trading carefully crafted barbs. While Fillières never gives us much detail on their lives before the movie begins, you can see a lifetime of curdled love in their every exchange. Unfortunately, Pomme's woodland excursion is less well-handled, as the writing falls prey to some blunt symbolism and the direction fails to sell us on Pomme's isolation, on the vastness of the wilderness in which she's lost or the amount of time she finds herself there. The wilderness segments demanded a sense of grandeur, but Fillières never lets the sometimes-uncomfortable intimacy wane, even as everything else drops off.

When Fillières gives her two leads someone to bounce off of, the film is good; when she has them toying with one another, the film is great. Unfortunately, too much of the the movie is lost to a rehash of Wild, as Pomme is forced to survive and find herself in the wilderness. Fillières is a phenomenal writer, but her direction lacks the assured sophistication of her storytelling. If You Don't, I Will recaptures its magic by the powerful finale, and I think that Fillières ultimately made the right choice in forcing Pomme into solitude for a time, but the lost momentum hurts regardless. Still, taken as a whole, If You Don't, I Will is a smartly written, fantastically acted relationship drama from a talented French writer and director, well worth your attention.

If You Don't, I Will played recently at the 39th annual Cleveland International Film Festival, and will be released by Film Movement on April 7th. Written and directed by Sophie Fillières, If You Don't, I Will stars Emmanuelle Devos and Mathieu Amalric.

102 minutes. In French with English subtitles. 
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