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A Nos Amours DVD Review

A Nos Amours

June 15, 2006

Director: Maurice Pialat,
Starring: Sandrine Bonnaire, Evelyne Ker, Dominique Besnehard, Maurice Pialat, Maite Maille, Anne-Sophie Maille, Christophe Odent, Cyr Boitard, Pierre-Loup Rajot,

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DVD Review

A Nos Amours (1983) chronicles the day-to-day existence of a 16-year-old French girl named Suzanne (Bonnaire) in the same realistic way as a John Cassavetes film in the sense that director Maurice Pialat also places an emphasis on human behaviour.

Pialat presents Suzanne as a desirable character, a very sexual person in both how other men regard her and in her actions. He establishes this early on with a shot of her back to the camera standing on the front of a boat dressed all in white, her short skirt flapping in the wind during the opening credits. And then, she turns and smiles at the camera but she is actually smiling at three older men who look leeringly at her. Soon afterwards, a guy in a sports car honks his horn at her and then we see her making out with her boyfriend. A little later we see an anonymous boy telling Suzanne that she’s beautiful and she ends up having sex with him. She’s a sexually adventurous young girl with an insatiable appetite – she even wears out one of her lovers during a night that they spend together.

Suzanne seems very mature for her age and Sandrine Bonnaire’s impressive performance expertly conveys this notion. She acts very naturally as if she became her character and is able to convey the complex emotions required of the role. This is even more impressive when one realizes that this was Bonnaire’s first role. She is even able to hold her own in intense scenes, like when she gets into a very heated argument with her mother (Ker) over the kind of clothes she wears and this devolves into a screaming match with her slovenly brother (Besnehard) intervening. Once the father leaves, his abusive behaviour seems to transfer over to the brother and mother who are emotional basket cases. Their behaviour towards Suzanne shows how much the father’s departure has affected them.

Like Cassavetes, Pialat exposes the raw emotions of his characters. For example, Suzanne has an argument with her father (Pialat) and he suddenly slaps her. It is this outburst of violence, that comes out of the blue, that is such a shock, much like in real life. And yet, he shows a sensitive side as well. Coming home late one night, Suzanne has a talk with him and he tells her that he’s leaving the family because he’s fed up. Their conversation has a ring of authenticity to it, like we are witness to an actual conversation between two people that flows naturally.

As A Nos Amours progresses, it becomes apparent that Suzanne’s life is a mess. Her family life is in turmoil due to her father’s departure so she escapes that pain with a series of sexual relationships with men. In particular, her scenes with her brother and mother are scary moments where he beats her while the mother cries or yells at her. With that kind of home life no wonder she’s unhappy and seeks solace with strangers because her family are monsters. It makes her departure from everything she knows a necessary form of survival. Suzanne must escape this poisonous environment if she ever hopes of saving herself.

Special Features:

The first disc includes a theatrical trailer.

The rest of the supplemental material is located on the second disc starting with “The Human Eye,” a 55 minute documentary that analyzes the film. For example, critics point out how it has no plot, just characters. Initially, we are presented with several of Suzanne’s love affairs but not in a conventional way and this leaves more questions than answers. The film doesn’t follow a conventional narrative because it’s about real life which is also disorganized. Critics sound off and key cast and crew members talk about their experiences working on this movie in this excellent, detailed doc that provides fascinating insight into how it works.

“Maurice Pialat on Set” is an excerpt from French television program Etoiles et Toiles with footage of Pialat on the set of his film talking with the actors about a given scene. The director is interviewed and speaks eloquently about his style of direction. He candidly admits to feeling “lost” on the first few takes acting and directing but eventually found his way.

There is a recent interview with actress “Sandrine Bonnaire.” She feels that the film is a journey for her character, going from men to men looking for someone to replace her absent father. This movie was her first one and so she views Pialat as family, a father figure of sorts who taught her so much about making movies. She recounts fondly several filming anecdotes of Pialat’s style of directing in this excellent featurette.

Controversial filmmaker of such films as Romance (1999) and Fat Girl (2001), Catherine Breillat is interviewed. She worked with Pialat, writing the screenplay for his 1985 film, Police. She describes him as a tyrant on the set but feels that the anger was usually directed at himself because he was so self-critical. She felt that his creativity came out of this anger.

“Jean-Pierre Gorin” is a French filmmaker who worked with the likes of Jean-Luc Godard and is now a Professor of Film Studies at the University of California. He describes Pialat’s films as a reaction to the French New Wave of the 1960s as it goes back to Jean Renoir’s films about behaviour. He points that Pialat’s film utilized documentary practices by watching a scene unfold as it happens.

Finally, there collection of audition footage of several cast members many of whom were acting for the first time.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 90%

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