Bad Romance: On Pialat’s A nos amours, Screening Tonight

11/17/2011 1:26 PM |

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Maurice Pialat’s À nos amours screens tonight at BAM. The film was selected, intriguingly, by Michael Imperoli.

Maurice Pialat valued eroticism and naturalism; his 1983 À nos amours exemplifies both in excess. The film stars an incredibly striking Sandrine Bonnaire as Suzanne, a 15-year-old sexpot who escapes from her family troubles into the arms of countless men. While her teenage friends float aimlessly and unabashedly through their own sexual encounters, it is Suzanne’s numb seductions that show sex for what the unsentimental Pialat posits it to be: a selfish and unfeeling quest for power that leaves little joy behind.

The film takes sex and love as its subject matter to an almost overwhelming degree, while also, more subtly, observing how the separation of Suzanne’s parents affects her mental state, through its nuanced juxtapositions of family arguments and passionate love affairs. Her dalliances are presented as vignettes, each new conquest—each new step in Suzanne’s emotional education—presented sans any sort of contextual introduction. Her stabs at maturity—seducing men beyond her years, talking bluntly to her parents as equals, an ill-advised marriage—come off as childlike, for Suzanne never seems happy or self-assured despite her boldness. She is shown to be self-aware about her escapist sex drive, commenting nonchalantly, “I’m only happy when I’m with a guy,” but her naivety is apparent in her compulsive behavior.

Suzanne is an unlikeable protagonist, and her family is erratic, violent, and even less deserving of the audience’s sympathy, though Pialat’s style is less overbearing than his worldview. His observations are communicated less through obvious dialogue (the above quote is a rare instance of straightforward self-analysis) but through the realism of the gestures, glances and costumes as revealed in patient camerawork. There is little to like in most of the characters the film presents, but its dour viewpoint suggests that this may be as good as humanity gets.