The latest from Claire Denis, Fire (Both Sides of the Blade), explores the complexities of relationships past and present but gets muddled in the process.
Navigating the endless maze of emotion is a fine tight-rope to walk. Mammoth tasks is nothing new for Denis, a bold filmmaker whose work is always interesting. And Fire also sees Denis working with Christine Angot again on the screenplay.
With the UK premiere taking place at this year’s Glasgow Film Festival this romantic drama takes in the outskirts of Paris. We see middle-aged couple Jean (Vincent Lindon) and Sara (Juliette Binoche) blissfully in a bubble of euphoria. This, however, doesn’t last long with the return to the scene of former lover, François (Grégoire Colin), to complicate matters.
This is not quite the high drama you typically expect from a love-triangle we normally see on the big screen. It certainly isn’t the laugh-filled hi-jinks of 2009’s It’s Complicated (Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin & Steve Martin). Though a quick Streep or Martin like-quip wouldn’t go amiss.
Instead what we get here is painstaking confusion and turmoil as Sara sees her former lover return to her life.
It is that aspect and the subsequent events that unfold that are the most engaging part of the story. But to even get to this point the movie takes its time, which is probably an understatement.
When the cast gets to those crucial moments when they actually have something to do, Juliette Binoche is masterful and easy to see why Denis is working with her yet again. Her character very much does all the heavy lifting and her emotional acrobatics as she begins to play both sides is just about enough to keep it all interesting.
Themes of regret and yearning for the past throughout give it some depth but Sara is really the only character with such dimensions.
One of the biggest elements working against the film is a runtime shy of two hours. You feel almost every single minute, it takes too long to get going and is bereft of drama for the first two-thirds of it.
There is a fundamental issue in the drama that slowly takes centre stage. It’s hard to feel truly invested in how it plays out and the outcome as all three characters are unlikeable. But in addition to this both Jean and François don’t feel completely realised.
You sympathise with Jean, yes, but that’s just about it. And it’s unfortunate for Vincent Lindon who makes the most of what is at his disposal. We see a little more of Jean’s life with the introduction of his son, Marcus (Issa Perica). And that dynamic is interesting with potential where briefly issues of culture and race come into play.
But it all feels, somewhat, out of place where are too many ideas at play and feels out of place with the central story of it all.
Some intriguing insights as a whole but feels severely lacking with only glimmers of hope of what could have been.