An angry, mysterious affection exists between teenage Suzanne (Sandrine Bonnaire) and her father (Maurice Pialat, also the director), and from their first scene together, when he jokingly suggests he join his daughter and her best friend in bed for their afternoon siesta, we know this is much more than a film about teenage rebellion, domestic violence and family breakdown. It’s more a raw, close to bleeding journey, taken by father and daughter, and fuelled by a tank of jealous, liberating love that knows, eventually, no judgment.
Suzanne’s string of casual sexual relationships with boys causes a stir in the family home (a huge apartment, also serving as the family’s animal fur workshop-business): her father is ‘rationally envious’, wanting to understand the sudden change in his daughter, while her mother (Evelyne Ker) thinks she is ‘ruined’ for marriage. Meanwhile, her brother, Robert (a dry, winking performance by Dominique Besnehard) is furious her exploits have rocked the boat and upset their mother. When the father leaves the family home, Suzanne’s erratic behaviour understandably increases, resulting in several operatic displays of emotion: Robert beats Suzanne, who hurls abuse at her mother, who, in turn, shrieks, unsurprisingly, that she can’t take anymore.
Although the film is shot almost entirely from Suzanne’s perspective, the father’s effect on the family is indomitable. The strong pater-presence is intensified by Pialat’s role as director, the auteur behind the camera and manipulator of the action. This blurring of boundaries, between acting and directing, is what gives A Nos Amours its beat. Pialat plays an acerbic father: critical, yet oddly loving, and he directs with an urgent desire to capture the moment. Whether the scenes are scripted or improvised, they are always intense, compelling, and you feel as though you are embarrassingly close to the actors. Perhaps standing on the balcony of the family’s apartment, face pressed against the window, looking over Pialat’s shoulder. What you see is shocking, liberating, and you want more.
Suzanne was Bonnaire’s first role, one for which she prepared with no formal training. Her performance is a triumph: gentle, achingly natural as she glides like a swan between young lover, feisty sister and confused, adoring daughter. Pialat described Suzanne as a ‘mystery, as is any person, when treated with respect’. Suzanne is unknowable, and she is a gift.
Director: Maurice Pialat(1983)
Helen Van Kruyssen