Both Sides of the Blade, 2022.
Directed by Claire Denis.
Starring Juliette Binoche, Vincent Lindon, Grégoire Colin, Mati Diop, Hana Magimel, Bulle Ogier, and Issa Perica.
A love triangle story about a woman caught between two men, her long-time partner and his best friend, her former lover.
In a tender dialogue-free opening set to a beautiful melody from composer Stuart Staples, esteemed co-writer/director Claire Denis (writing alongside Let the Sunshine In collaborator Christine Angot) begins Both Sides of the Blade (alternatively and generically titled Fire, so if you are having trouble finding the movie in theaters or on-demand, search that title) establishing an affectionate, touchy and physical love between Jean and Sara (played with a pair of extraordinary psychologically layered performances from French veterans Juliette Binoche and Vincent Lindon).
The couple seems inseparable and unable to keep their hands off one another, but somewhat distant regarding verbal and emotional communication, primarily because of Jean. He’s an ex-con and a former athlete contemplating accepting a massive agency opportunity to work with François (Grégoire Colin, who also turns in some outstandingly menacing work despite his friendly guy demeanor), Sara’s ex-partner. Merely noticing François in public is enough to trigger a rush of emotions grounded in the past through Sara, seemingly a combination of potential trauma and genuinely missing him, possibly regarding her decision to leave him for Jean.
There wouldn’t be a movie if Jean didn’t accept that Sara would feel comfortable about them working together, choosing to take on the dream job. It’s also a given that a love triangle of mind games simmers and builds up until an explosive confrontation of the truth that is utterly devastating and absorbing to witness unfold, even if we have reservations about liking some of these characters. The reasoning behind that is authentic and believable human emotions take a story far, even if some aspects occasionally feel a bit too much of a slow burn.
Both Sides of the Blade also exists during our global health crisis, meaning masks are present. The metaphor also might be obvious, but the simple image of watching these characters return home and sometimes deceiving the other person about something while wearing a mask should not go lost on viewers. It’s easily some of the best implementations of the pandemic in a film. There’s also a fascinating subplot in that even though Jean served time in prison, he has been granted more freedom in life than Sara, who makes many decisions under the feeling of being controlled. Expanding on this concept is Jean’s mixed race/Black problem child teenage son (Issa Perica) in the care of his grandmother, with compelling conversations discussing privilege and identity emerging.
The screenplay is also wise about never making the endgame of these characters too apparent. Sure, there are times when we want the story to move along and get to the toxic and corrosive breakdown, but Claire Denis never loses sight of why these characters make the choices and react the way they do, which are sometimes surprising. The strength of Both Sides of the Blade’s great third act should also reveal more about these characters on subsequent watches, which is as good a reason as any to get pierced by this emotionally draining blade from both sides.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com