Both Sides of the Blade

Nicki Alchin
18th Aug 2022

The French are masters at making the domestic dramatic. It is no different with the latest film Both Sides of the Blade from respected French director, Claire Denis (of Chocolat and Sexy fame), starring the popular and talented Juliette Binoche. Denis' directing prowess is not the only skill on display though as she co-wrote the screenplay with Christine Angot, author of the French novel, Un Tournant de la vie, on which the film is based.

There are three main characters in the film. Binoche plays Sara, a woman working and living in Paris. The plot focuses on her relationships with two men, Jean (Vincent Lindon, Best Actor at Cannes for The Measure of a Man) who is her long-term partner returning from a prison sentence, and their mutual friend, Francois (Grègoire Colin, Paris Memories and Sexy), a past lover and a past/current business partner of Jean's and the person who introduced Sara to Jean.

The opening scene shows Jean and Sara on holiday and paints a beautiful picture of where they are placed in their relationship. One gauges from their interaction that it is full of trust, and calmness as well as a sense of fulfillment, as well as feeling blessed, fulfillment at having the good fortune to find a deep emotional connection with a lover.

However, the serenity of this scene slowly seeps away upon their return to Paris. Jean is anxious to get back into a post-prison lifestyle that includes a rewarding job and becoming on better terms with his son. He begins looking into his own projects but is finally swayed to reestablish a business partnership with Francois. Meanwhile, Sara goes about her everyday routine and is rattled by a random sighting of Francois that occurs prior to her knowing he has contacted Jean to help start a new business venture. The chance encounter leads Sara to a state of being plagued by intense longing. All her past passions for Francois are reignited and the wonderings of what her life would be like if she had stayed with him surface. The pair do eventually connect in-person and it is at this point the subterfuge and secret texting begins.

Sara's turning point in her juggling of both men occurs at the launch party of Jean and Francois' business venture. In a moment of Sara's self-centredness, Jean is made very aware of the situation between Sara and Francois. As a result of the type of relationship that he has with Sara, Jean decides to raise his concerns in a calm way. Sara unfortunately doesn't take well to being found out and her reaction escalates the conversation into a shouting match. It is not long after this scene it is clear that decisions must be made by all three participants in this love triangle.

Throughout the film I found it interesting to observe the treatment of a woman at the centre of a love triangle, by a female author, and then the collaboration of two females to write the screenplay. There were many times I disliked Sara and the way she was playing each male against the other. Whatever way the film ends, audiences will be left in no doubt they were given front row seats in observing Both Sides of the Blade.

Go with a curiosity to see how the French: a) make films caught up in showcasing the domesticity and emotional fervour of its characters; and b) the onscreen chemistry between Binochet and her two leading men, Lindon and Colin.

Screening from 1 September.
French language with English subtitles.