19 February 2008 | Chris Knipp
Chraccter actress Anne Le Ny makes a creditable directorial debut with this story about a man and a woman who connect in a hospital where their significant others are cancer patients and they are daily visitors. As Bertrand and Lorraine, the excellent Vincent Lindon and Emmannuelle Devos are together again as they were two years ago in Emmanuel Carrère's La moustache. To Le Ny's credit she dares not to show any patients or doctors, tears, flashbacks, or scenes of working life, though she does fall into a couple of clichés otherwise.
The first meeting is obvious enough. Bertrand, a German teacher whose afternoons are free for these visits, encounters a flustered Lorraine on her first time at the hospital dropping a file of papers and unable to find the ward where her boyfriend's bed is. Far from the attentive mate with the tireless bedside manner, she's not sure she's ever going to be able to cope if she winds up with a boyfriend who has permanent damage from colon cancer. Bertrand is so wise, patient, and long-suffering it comes to bug her. But that comes later.
At first, they simply meet again and have coffee at the cafeteria. They also get to know the ladies at the newsstand/gift shop where Bertrand regularly gets a certain magazine for his wife. She's been in and out of hospitals for five years with breast cancer. He lives with a teenage stepdaughter Valentine (Yeelem Jappain), who detests him and continually makes excuses not to come see her mom.
We know less about Lorraine except that she's a graphic designer who's scatterbrained and wholly unready for the role of Mother Teresa. And she has an automobile, and since Bertrand has a long bus and train ride to get home, she gives him a lift back to Paris in her car. And that, of course, becomes the routine.
The day comes when Bertrand and Lorraine do more than keep each other company; when they begin to go to the hospital to see each other. And that becomes complicated. Bertrand has a longtime commitment to his wife. Lorraine's relationship is newer, and she balks at her new role with her boyfriend. But that may not show who most needs the other.
Le Ny herself plays Nathalie, Bertrand's over-helpful sister, who comes with husband Jean-Paul (Grégoire Oestermann) and baby boy to stay over for a bit with Bertrand and Valentine. This interlude helps keep the Bertrand-Lorraine coupling from being too fast, too romantic, or too intense. over-helpful sister, who comes to visit w It always remains an uncertain thing, a stop-gap perhaps, a comfort in time of need. They meet in a state of limbo. Their relationship is predicated on that state.
One wouldn't expect a story like this to be fun and it certainly isn't. Unfortunately though it does present an interesting dilemma and sensibly avoids any easy or sentimental solutions, I'm not wholly convinced it goes deep enough to justify ninety minutes of our time. Lindon and Devos are two of the best actors in current French films; they do not disappoint-- and deserve respect for taking on a hard subject. But their talents might have been better used if the script had given them more interesting dialogue and more emotional range. Devos only gets to be eager, confused, and superficial, and Lindon spends all his time in a deep funk. This is an actor who is capable of a great deal more than glum determination. Understandable, no doubt, that his character should primarily exhibit that manner; but the writing doesn't allow either character to develop much, even when the inevitable happens and the statuses of their hospitalized significant others finally change in ways that force their hand with each other. The principal irony is that Bertrand and Lorraine obviously like each other a lot, enough so their feelings for each other peep out despite the heavy fog of duty, grief, and annoyance they live in every day--and so, dismal as their daily returns to the hospital are, or were, something in each of them resists the development that will lead away from the hospital--recovery, or death--or toward a more positive existence. Limbo can be curiously addictive.
Le Ny wisely avoids any trite resolution; but that leaves things rather flat. When something is rounded off--stepdaughter Valentine's hostilities--it's done in a way that's a bit too sweet and articulate for a sixteen-year-old--particularly this one. And the stopover for the carnival and the cotton candy is too cute and American rom-com for a piece that strives for grit as this does, and has no beauty in its extremely utilitarian locations otherwise, even in the evening arrivals in Paris.
Shown as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center, New York, February 29-March 9, 2008. It opened in Paris August 29, 2007.