After dominating last year’s festival circuit and winning both Cannes and Venice, the prevalence of French cinema persists. Half of the 18 titles running in the Berlinale Competition are at least in part productions from France. One of the films representing the country is Claire Denis’s romance drama Both Sides of the Blade.

Sara (Juliette Binoche) and Jean (Vincent Lindon) return from a holiday by the sea, as enamoured as ever. Both have had significant relationships before each other: Jean has a son from a previous marriage; he and Sara met while she was still with his best friend François. When the latter suddenly re-appears in the couple’s lives, their shared bliss is compromised.

The film’s script is filled with mundane dialogue, from discussing the benefits of shopping in Parisian suburb Vitry to reiterated declarations of love that cast doubt over their sincerity. The setup following Sara to her work at the radio station, while only hearing about how Jean spends his day from what he tells her, raises false hopes of an actual plot. This is perpetuated by baffling choices in sound design. In a silent scene, the only thing audible is an intense panting that does not match Lindon’s character’s idleness. Another sequence is Sara heading through Paris, accompanied by ominous music. As it swells, the audience is prepared for something sinister to happen, but the on-screen action does not deliver.

The cinematography by Éric Gautier is predominantly comprised of beautiful compositions. For no apparent reason, images of poorer quality are thrown into the mix, their colour saturation suggesting these were shot on a cellphone.

As far as performances go, Vincent Lindon and Juliette Binoche are undisputed acting royalty. If one has ever wondered if these greats could read a grocery list and make it interesting, Both Sides of the Blade is the film to watch to find out! 

★★☆☆☆

Selina Sondermann

Avec Amour et Acharnement (Both Sides of the Blade) does not have a UK release date yet.

For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.

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