Down By Love Review



Based on a true story, Pierre Godeau’s sophomore feature film is Down By Love, and takes place, for the most part, in a women’s prison. While his last film was titled Juliette (2013), this could well have gone by the name of Romeo, for he depicts love in the face of adversity, between two people who really shouldn’t be getting together; an inmate and a Governor. Though you never quite know if its genuine adoration, or if the former is using this kinship to benefit her own cause, it’s that volatile sense of ambiguity which makes for such a compelling endeavour, as we vie tirelessly to read, and comprehend the situation.

Adele Exarchopoulos, of Blue is the Warmest Colour fame, takes on the lead role, of a teenager imprisoned for what appears to be 10-12 years. She’s not one for words, pensive and contemplative, keeping her head down amongst her fellow inmates, just wanting to get by until the time comes for her release. It’s that nonchalance and brooding manner which beguiles the viewer, and in turn, the Governor of the prison (Guillaume Gallienne). Though married, and father to a young girl, he puts both his family and his career at stake, when he enters into an illicit, illegal and impassioned affair with the young woman.

In a similar vein to the breathtaking British drama Starred Up, we don’t find out the crime in which our protagonist committed to land them in confinement. It’s essential this be the case as we get to know her, without any specific preconceptions. That said, we are aware of her sentence, and knowing she has to serve at least a decade suggests her punishment is by no means for a petty crime. That also benefits the title, as it keeps the viewer on edge. You do grow to like her, but you’re never quite sure if you can trust her, convinced there is always something else at play. You know she can be capable of something pretty nasty, and that provides the film with a tension and suspense, even in scenes where there is no cause for that to be a prevalent sentiment.

Exarchopoulos excels in the role, once again displaying that ineffable charisma and allure, with such a remarkable screen presence. She manages to be empathetic and absorbing, bewitching the viewer in the same way she does the Governor. This is essential to the narrative too, as we have to believe in how and why he could fall for somebody half his age, and in her position – putting his career and marriage on the line in the process. Though his actions are nothing short of reprehensible, it’s fair to say that we do sympathise with his cause, somewhat.

That is also down to the casting of Gallienne, a distinctively endearing figure. What somehow transpires is that you, against all odds, may find yourself rooting for the romance in parts, despite knowing it’s completely wrong. Of course this has no reflection on the real life events, and is purely a reaction to the piece of cinema laid out in front of us – but that willingness is very much palpable where these two characters, and actors, are concerned.

Though perhaps Godeau’s lack of attention on the Governor’s wife and child is partly the reason for this, as we don’t give nearly enough focus to the marriage at hand. As such, we aren’t able to fully appreciate what he could be throwing away and what is at stake – and had that been explored further, we may have found our own intentions head down a rather different path.