Plot: A single mother falls in love with a younger man who enters her life as abruptly as he exits it. An examination of the limits, burdens and deceptions of the overwhelming emotion that is love.
Five years after her latest film Parisienne, Lebanese filmmaker Danielle Arbid returns with a deceptively simple, layered film about the highs and lows of love from the perspective of a woman who falls under the spell of a charismatic man who sweeps her off her feet and, along the way, disrupts every single element of her lifestyle.
Countless films have been made about the spell-binding, arresting impact of love, and while Simple Passion may seem at first as another depiction of what it’s like to be madly and mindlessly in love, the film remains unquestionably unique and touching thanks to a mesmerizing performance by Laetitia Dosch (whose turn in Jeune Femme a few years ago brought her much global attention). As Helene, Dosch embodies a character on the verge of obsession. An accomplished university professor and a mother to a middle school boy, Helene’s life takes a drastic turn when she meets a charming Russian diplomat. A steamy affair kicks off soon after, completely paralyzing her and controlling her every movement, thought and decision.
As much as Arbid is interested in the irresistible nature of Helene’s connection to her lover, she’s clearly invested in the character’s healing process when such an affair ceases to exist. Rarely does Helene feel any remorse while being blinded by desire, passion and attraction to her charming newfound lover and while the first half of the film perhaps overstays its welcome in showing us how Helene completely dissolves and loses herself, the second half is a much stronger examination of what it’s like to be be alive, yet dead inside, to painfully wait for what’s never going to come, to feed off memories with nothing to look forward to in the future.
As Helene’s affair ends, reality hits her hard. In one of the film’s most beautifully written scenes, she explains to her therapist how she would attempt to go back to her pre-affair habits, as if trying to force her former self to once again become her new normal. In a way, and as time went by, she comes to terms with how much her affair had completely shattered everything she ever knew. ‘I would enter places where there are lots of women around me’, she explains, ‘and wonder whether they had a man in mind at all times like me – and if they didn’t, how they managed to survive’.
The film’s most poignant moments rest on Dosch’s shoulders as he wanders aimlessly, looking for her lost lover in every face, every corner, every street she comes across. Dosch brilliantly captures the character’s cycle of pain, despair and attempts at recovery. And when the film’s final stretch arrives, the character’s resolution is very much earned, as her experience comes full circle. Viewers who had experienced heartbreak will completely identify with Helene’s final realization which, without spoiling much, is utterly believable and honest.
Verdict: Deceptively simple, Simple Passion will resonate most with those who experienced love in all its stages – joys, pleasure and heartbreak. A beautiful, if slightly uneven, film on longing, yearning, dissolving in love and ultimately rising above it all.
This review is from the 45th Toronto International Film Festival.