Thursday, March 20, 2014

Movie Review: If You Don't, I Will

or Arrête ou je continue. Written and directed by Sophie Fillières. 2014. 


Every movie begins with a promise to its audience: to make good on the premise of its opening scene. The movie has until the final shot to make good on that commitment. Some finales fulfill in a grand gesture, a la 2001, others, like Mr. Hulot's Holiday, trot off in quiet, and some very few disguise their exits, prompting us to wonder whether we've been cheated or have missed something. If You Don't, I Will fits into the latter, smaller category. It opens with a gesture grand in implication but subtle in presentation: a couple looking at a painting that bears the line from Matthew's gospel, "God calls us to be perfect." Pomme is skeptical while her husband Pierre is outright offended, judging God presumptuous.

We don't know or even sense it at the time, but the call to perfection is the struggle of this troubled couple whose every exchange is a strain on both partners. Something, and we never find out what, has come between them and in every quarrel their reconciliation seems to ebb away. The movie drops a lot of hints as to what it might be–financial strain, a lack of children, infidelity, distance after Pomme's surgery–but these are all red herrings. We don't need to know why they're apart because we've been given the key at the beginning: perfection. Perfection for Pierre lies in loving his wife once again, and Pomme's salvation lies in reuniting with her husband. Or does it?

Throughout If You Don't, I Will Pomme suffers wound after wound. Sometimes they're emotional, such as the slights and chills of her husband, but they're as often physical. She falls in the shower, gets paper cuts, gets pestered by ants, loses of a button off her pants, has to dash for the bus, cuts her lip on glass, and on and on. The continuous barbs against her body magnify the emotional thorns her husband drives in every time he rejects one of her endless prompts for mere kindness. Sometimes she gives him a chance to compliment her, other times just to do things the way they used to, and always in response, rejection. In a bittersweet moment Pierre compliments Pomme by calling her honey, and she looks up ready to take the olive branch only to discover by his confusion that he endeared her by accident. The simple moment reveals that if Pierre would simply let go of something, his inclination to love Pomme would take over. Instead he willfully closes himself off.

Mathieu Amalric's performance of Pierre is a little masterpiece. Pierre is so closed off that at every turn he looks as if about to collapse in on himself. All of this implosive energy, in each gesture and word, looks as if it wants to burst forth in either love or hate, yet always retreats back in. We sense a resolve, a guarded barrier between what wants to come out and what willfully repressed. Pierre's gaze even seems ever to look past the Pomme he sees to find something terrible from which to retreat. His emotional disconnection climaxes in impotence when in a scene of poised eroticism Pomme exposes her breast to him, hoping to entice her husband, or perhaps test him. At the voluptuous sight Pierre is stolid, and a moment later Pomme cuts her lip on a glass.

The couple finally parts while hiking in their old wooded haunt, to which Pomme all but has to drag her husband. We assume that in leaving she's trying to teach him a lesson and that she'll soon come home, until night passes, and then the following day, and then day after day. In time we realize Pomme is wondering whether to return at all, wandering the primordial grounds to test whether she wants to return to life before Pierre, who back at home represses his fear for her by resuming their old routine. In fact Pierre sets out to find his wife only when Pomme's son tells him that something is gravely wrong. Brief and unsuccessful, the search is another impotent gesture. Back in the forest, Pomme meanders a long while, and don't we all when making a grave decision? We engage a little, and run away, tiptoe down one path, and then turn back for another. I think I can forgive Pomme her lengthy searching.

Two scenes in the woods symbolize the potential ends of Pomme's search. In the first, getting hungry, Pomme approaches a brace of hares, a couple in fact. She tells the male as she approaches, "Kill yourself. Cook yourself. Your wife will be safe." He might as well be Pierre, and we realize that Pomme is, or thinks herself, strong enough to get along without him. In the second, a chamois (a goat-antelope) stumbles into he hole where Pomme is spending the night. She watches him, and watches and watches, of course to no reply. It gets dark and she lights her lighter, resolved to see him. Pierre again? In the morning she helps the lost creature out of the hole. Can she do the same for her husband?

Pomme's choice, which I won't spoil, will invariably seem unsatisfactory insofar as it seems simultaneously decisive and arbitrary. After all, we know neither what separated the couple nor what might reasonably reunite them. Her decision, though, does not neglect the film's promise. We may not like Pomme's choice, but it forces us to ask where, in what, or in whose love we find our perfection.

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