Another Woman's Life: Film Review
An irresistible lead turn from Juliette Binoche carries this choppy romantic dramedy by Sylvie Testud.
Gallic star Sylvie Testud (Lourdes, La Vie en rose) makes her debut behind the camera with The Life of Another (La Vie d’une autre), a well-acted but narratively choppy romantic dramedy adapted from Frederique Deghelt’s 2007 novel. Featuring an irresistible lead turn from Juliette Binoche as a hard-hitting career woman who awakes to find herself in the mind of a 25-year-old party girl, the film mostly convinces until it flies off the rails during a truncated third act and faux finale. Decent home numbers and Francophone sales should keep Life afloat overseas, while a small Stateside release is not out of the question.
When the fun loving Marie (Binoche) sets her eyes on brooding comic book artist Paul (Mathieu Kassovitz), it sets off the kind of sparks that quickly culminate in the bedroom. But the next morning brings its share of surprises as Marie crawls out of bed to discover her life flash-forwarded fifteen years down the road: Not only has she been married to Paul all this time, but she’s now the mother of a sensitive little boy (Yvi Dachary-Le Beon), the head of a powerful multinational investment firm and the proprietor of a fabulous apartment overlooking the Eiffel Tower.
So much for the good part. The bad part is that while Marie has managed to grow into an all-around success story, it’s come at the price of her first true love, and she soon learns that a divorce between her and Paul is pending, with both of them leading the type of extramarital affairs typical of many a French movie. With a severe case of amnesia and no clear understanding of how things got so terrible, she naively and earnestly tries to salvage a life that’s about to slip away from her.
Not unlike Penny Marshall’s Big, except with the ages pushed up by a few decades, the film squeezes a few laughs out of early reels where the freewheeling Marie is forced to assume the adult roles of loving mother, estranged wife and ruthless CEO, not to mention adapting to cell phones, emails and other modern conveniences. But the comedy soon gives way to drama as she realizes just how far she and Paul have strayed from one another, with professional obligations and flings taking precedence over family.
In essence, The Life of Another uses an unexplained phenomenon – a short visit with a shrink fails to clarify matters – to plunge Marie into a midlife crisis where everything she’s worked for is suddenly revealed to be phony and worthless, and the film is best when it shows how our values transform over time, especially with lots of money. It’s all the more disappointing, then, that the two Maries are never forced to confront one another, and the open-ended denouement leaves many a question unanswered, failing to provide the kind of reality check that would give the plot meaning.
Despite the last act letdowns, Testud bolsters her story with strong performances from both Kassovitz and Binoche, with the latter providing a joyful and convincing depiction of a sheep in wolf’s clothing. Compared to her more austere turns in recent art house hits like Certified Copy and Summer Hours, Marie offers Binoche the occasion to channel the nonstop energy of her early work, and a nightclub sequence set to Blondie’s “Maria” shows to what extent the 47-year-old actress is still a fountain of youth.
Opens: In France (February 15)
Production companies: Dialogues Films, ARP, Numero 4 Production, Paul Thiltges Distribution, Saga Film
Cast: Juliette Binoche, Mathieu Kassovitz, Aure Atika, Daniele Lebrun, Vernon Dbotcheff, Yvi Dachary-Le Beon, Francois Berleand
Director: Sylvie Testud
Screenwriters: Sylvie Testud, Claire Lemarechal, based on the novel by Frederique Deghelt
Producers: Emmanuel Jacquelin, Michele Petin, Laurent Petin, Emmanuelle Lacaze
Director of photography: Thierry Arbogast
Production designer: Christina Schaffer
Editor: Yann Malcor
Music: Andre Dziezuk
Costume designer: Emmanuelle Youchnovski
Sales Agent: ARP Selection
No rating, 97 minutes