GFF 2022: Fire (Both Sides of the Blade)
Juliette Binoche, Vincent Lindon and Grégoire Colin's characters become involved in a messy love triangle in the latest film from Claire Denis
Claire Denis returns to the intimate and unsettlingly personal with Fire (Both Sides of the Blade), a film that reunites her with three of her regular stars – Juliette Binoche, Vincent Lindon and Grégoire Colin. Following the small dramas of a blissfully married woman whose peace is devastated when a previous lover returns, Fire (Both Sides of the Blade) is a choked, claustrophobic affair about the constant potential of life to shatter certainty.
Thematically, it sits well alongside fellow upcoming European cinema darling The Worst Person in the World, but where Joachim Trier’s romantic comedy is resolutely compassionate, Denis’s twisted melodrama offers no such reassurance. The marriage between Binoche’s Sara and Lindon’s Jean is shown with sweet and granular tenderness, but Colin’s François upends their gentle domesticity into discomforting psychological tension: Sara and François circle past and whisper to each other with the underhanded precision of an erotic thriller, the camera staying close and offering no escape.
It’s a tonal juxtaposition that, however, isn’t always earned. As Sara dissolves further into the affair, her reasons for demolishing her happy, fulfilling life never quite add up, and the sudden ugliness that erupts with her husband feels simultaneously abrupt and cynically familiar. Set in the aftermath of COVID-19, Fire (Both Sides of the Blade) is most interesting when in direct conversation with its contemporary context of social upheaval, underscoring it as a narrative about dislocation, loss and re-emergence. But as the film continues, these moments become increasingly sparse, and brutal – and somewhat boring – as melodrama takes over.
Fire (Both Sides of the Blade) screened at Glasgow Film Festival and will be released by Curzon later in 2022