We Won't Grow Old Together (1972)
Directed by Maurice Pialat
A Maurice Pialat film feels like it's about to crack open. The actors lurch towards each other at odd broken angles, making cruel jokes smilingly. Sometimes things get heated, and blows break out. The camera shakes a little watching the people, whether lovers or family members, while others in the background incidentally look around. There's almost never music. The scenes break off suddenly, and seem to fall into each other without transition. You think it'll end, and then it doesn't. But no matter how much pain the movie's causing, the fact that you're still with it means that you don't really want to leave.
Pialat's a filmmaker with a strong view of life, and an especially strong view of human relationships. After dealing with adult-child relations in his debut feature, 1968's Naked Childhood, he turned to grown-up romance in 1972's We Won't Grow Old Together, now receiving weeklong U.S. theatrical premiere run from at BAM. The hulking Jean (Jean Yanne, who won the Best Actor prize at Cannes) and upright Catherine (Marlène Jobert) have been together for six years, and it's clear that things are getting tired. They slap each other, scream to be heard, and temporarily flee. Her best memory of him, she claims, is the first time she saw his apartment; he says, "I stay with you out of pity, I suppose, nothing more."
That "suppose" is crucial, because neither of them can let go of the monster. They keep inventing excuses and ways to escape (I have a meeting to go to, really; I'd much rather take the metro today), but each time that they break apart, they immediately return. Jean tells Catherine's parents that they were as good as husband and wife once, to which the elders don't answer. Even Jean's real-life wife (Macha Méril) sees how much he needs to hang on.
Yet the relationship will never be over, at least not in his mind. (Nor, perhaps, in the director's—the film is based on Pialat's autobiographical first-person novel.) This is clear early, in the instant they're playing amidst rough ocean waves together, him laughing and grasping onto a body that time keeps pulling and he keeps pushing away. She's falling out of love, she says, a little more each day, and before it all goes he writes her a long letter. They sit together in a car while she turns the pages. We won't learn what's been written, but can tell a lot about it from his face; we don't know what she actually thinks of him, but can take a guess from hers.
Opens June 8 at BAM