While impossible to epitomise French cinema’s various movements and themes, Benoît Jacquot’s domestic drama – adapted from a play by Marguerite Duras – certainly captures many popularly held ideas of French stories, at least on the surface.
Suzanna (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is married to a philandering millionaire; she does not know where he is. She appears ageless – impeccably dressed in a black YSL mini dress and faux leopard coat, with the chicest bob and knee-high boots. But soon we know this coastal rental is her first holiday alone in 17 years. She leans against the wall and smokes as she tells her visiting lover (Niels Schneider) that she has left her child in Paris, and she regularly lies about how long she has been a mother. And to her friend (Julia Ray) that she meets on the beach, she laments that relationships can be lasting without being serious.
Unfortunately, these ruminations are underdeveloped even for a ninety-minute run time. Vacillations without answers are true to life, but unsatisfying, especially in the opening half-hour that it takes for all players (on and off screen) to become known. The sense that this woman has not let down her guard in almost two decades feels like it should lead to a further release; instead, Suzanna still feels too far away to care. Drastic action – up to suicide – is threatened, but these assertions’ half-heartedness reads as boredom more than a genuine need for change. Perhaps this script works better in a theatrical setting, where the smallest changes might register, and the spatial arrangement feels less stilted and distant. But the commentary on the inability to leave comfort and habit, and the special burdens women and mothers often feel in such arrangements, is lost.
There is still much artistry to appreciate. The performances’ understated naturalism and Gainsbourg’s magnetic presence work for such an everyday tale of the heart, even if they cannot elevate it fully. Additionally, set and costume designs are beautiful, even in a flat colour grading that mirrors Suzanna’s malaise. But SUZANNA ANDLER cannot bear the ugliness of the emotions it deals with, which kneecaps its emotional connection.