Sprawling and poetic French period drama powered by an understated chemistry between Anaïs Demoustier and Vincent Lacoste.
At a funeral, a character reads out the deceased’s favourite poem; it’s a blazing, lonely love poem that articulates the private space where passions light up the night. “For where secrets exist, life also begins,” says the character in a voice strong enough to force back the tears threatening to fall.
The life force created by keeping a secret proves to be lightning fuel in Katell Quillévéré’s post-war French family drama that takes the same epic sprawling form as her brilliant 2013 film, Suzanne. At a programme of the Cannes Film Festival full of films wrestling with the evil deeds of the Nazis, Along Came Love starts from an intriguing niche within this preoccupation.
In his 4.5 hour opus, Occupied City, Steve McQueen includes the fact that local women who had relationships with the occupying Germans were dubbed ‘Kraut Whores’ following liberation. These women had their heads shaved and swastikas painted on their bodies in the course of humiliating public spectacles.
A black and white prologue depicts this before the film switches to colour and we meet Madeleine (Anaïs Demoustier) and her child on a beach in the 1950s. Five-year-old Daniel has raced into the sea and is brought back to his mother by a helpful stranger. This proves to be the chicly fragile phD student, François (Vincent Lacoste, looking every inch the French Paul Dano).
François woos Madeleine by showing up at the restaurant where she waitresses – clad in a gargantuan bow – and buying them both champagne. Both are watchful characters who inch into their passions with one eye on the possibility of disaster. The halting chemistry between Demoustier and Lacoste is thrilling. He toasts to kairos, explaining it as a Greek term meaning “the luck you catch on the fly”. The collateral damage here is Daniel, whom Madeleine treats with abruptness. She is unmoved when they light a candle in church and he says that his prayer was that she will love him one day. “I forbid you to ruin my happiness,” she snaps at him after he runs off on their wedding day.
Working from her own screenplay, co-written with Gilles Taurand, Quillévéré charts the course of this mini family as the years fly by. Each new episode is written, shot and acted with such vividness that the lulls between narrative reveals never feel frustrating. Maddy, François and the pathologically overlooked, Daniel, are compelled to start again after a man from François’ past burns down their apartment.
Their new life involves running a bar frequented by American GIs and earns them a new friend, the charming, African American, Jimmy (Morgan Bailey) who wins them over via a whiskey sour recipe. His apparent carefree ease is a revelation to two people who move through life like rabbits in the headlight, and leads to perhaps the most tragicomic threesome ever committed to film.
Period details present with subtle authority through not just costume and production design, but by a social conservatism that colours characters who are too ashamed to admit core truths. Maddy and François are bound by an intimate understanding that transcends words so that their scenes are textured, full of glances and harmonious movements.
Dialogue is written as a dance, never as exposition. Heads are kept down for as long as is humanly possible which, it turns out, is not forever. Along Came Love essays a type of bond where shared secrets eventually erupt, causing both tragedy and release.
Published 21 May 2023
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