(Warning: mild spoilers ahead!)
If you’ve been in a long-term committed relationship, then no doubt you, too, have suffered through foolish arguments in which your stubbornness lasts far past the point of usefulness, until you’ve successfully entered the realm of the ridiculous. With nearly equal measures of comedy and tragedy, as befits such situations, director and screenwriter Sophie Fillieres has crafted an intelligent film around this entire predicament.
Pomme (Emmanuelle Devos) and Pierre (Mathieu Amalric), a married couple living in Lyon, have been together for several years. By way of Filliere’s economical storytelling and our two leads’ accomplished performances, we learn nearly everything we need to know about this duo’s character qualities and their relationship within the first five minutes:
- They’re playful (Pomme and Pierre banter sacrilegiously about a piece of art at a gallery opening).
- They’re misanthropic (Pomme can hardly be bothered to look up from her phone to direct another gallery visitor to the restroom; we soon learn that Pierre is even worse, carrying out only the minimum requirement of social niceties).
- Pierre can be unhesitatingly thoughtful (he buys a photograph that Pomme clumsily knocks off the gallery wall).
- He can also be astonishingly inconsiderate (after leaving the gallery, he dashes through the rain to hop on a city bus, without looking to see if Pomme has boarded, too).
- Their default mode has become acidic bickering (both argue passionately before and after getting on the bus).
This sequence also shows Filliere’s skill in rapid transitions from humor to seriousness. Much of the dialogue in If You Don’t is very funny, and Amalric in particular is highly adept at physical comedy. At the same time, Pomme’s plaintive query to Pierre on the bus – “What have we become?” – reveals the miserable prison they’ve created together.
I also like the visual symbolism employed by Fillieres, effective but never heavy-handed. A frozen, broken bottle of champagne represents the temperature and state of Pomme and Pierre’s passion. The absence of tinder for a fire during a hike together conveys that their relationship is also devoid of spark.
After a winning start, If You Don’t flags for a while before reaching its central scene. During a longer hike together (they decline to invite anyone else, so there will be no witnesses to their prophesied “mutual destruction”), Pierre and Pomme predictably argue yet again. In a huff, Pomme ludicrously declares that she’s not going home with Pierre. Just as absurdly, Pierre plays along and abandons Pomme in a massive forest.Shockingly, in a sequence that becomes laugh out loud hilarious, the hours of their rancor stretch into days. With Pomme hunkered down in the wild, it becomes a battle of attrition, to see which partner will relent first and reach out to the other.
Earlier this year, in my review of The Blue Room, I shared my admiration for Mathieu Amalric’s acting skill. Most likely, he’s my favorite actor working today, the one whom I will pay to see in nearly any film (but let us never speak again of his turn as a Bond villain in Quantum of Solace). Emmanuelle Devos is a frequent co-star with him, most memorably in Kings and Queen, where they played estranged, ineffective, and unbalanced parents.
While these current roles are not nearly as deep or demanding as their parts in that 2004 masterpiece, they still pair wonderfully here. Despite a bit of contrivance, it will be quite a while before I forget their final scene together in If You Don’t, where so much is communicated by their eye contact and a mere shift in posture.
Director Sophie Fillieres also impresses with her unobtrusive style, aptly paired with solo piano or guitar used sparingly. Only in one scene does Fillieres show off notably and appropriately, with a stirring bit of chiaroscuro during a night Pomme spends in the forest.
Samuel Johnson famously stated, “A man, Sir, should keep his friendship in constant repair.” Truer still for marriage, that most intimate of relationships. There’s a subplot to If You Don’t wherein Pomme suspects Pierre is fooling around with a cute neighbor. Ultimately, however, both come to realize that sexual fidelity is merely a reflection of that core requirement of a lasting marriage, enduring commitment and love. It’s easy to see how two misanthropic, wisecracking peas in a pod such as Pomme and Pierre were initially drawn to each other. Filliere’s story wisely shows how easy it is to start by feeling in love with the person we marry, but much harder to continue loving the person our partner becomes.
3.5 out of 5 stars
(Parents’ guide: If You Don’t, I Will has not been rated by the MPAA. Considering its occasional strong language, a couple of scenes with nudity, and its subject matter, I would recommend this film only for mature teens and adults.)