If You Don’t, I Will (Arrete ou je continue): Berlin Review

Les Films du Losange
A meandering, offbeat dramedy rescued by two terrific leads.

Emmanuelle Devos ("The Other Son") and Mathieu Amalric ("Jimmy P.") go tete-a-tete in writer-director Sophie Fillieres’ latest dramedy.

A mildly engaging couples dramedy carried by two of France’s finest working actors, If You Don’t, I will (Arrete ou je continue) marks another curious exercise in cinematic therapy from writer-director Sophie Fillieres.

Starring Emmanuelle Devos as a 40-something spouse -- or partner, as weddings are hardly de rigueur in Gaul these days -- who decides to literally walk out on a long-term relationship, and Mathieu Amalric as the sad sack man-boy who trails after her, this rambling two-hander features a few genuinely funny moments, but is otherwise too flat and diffuse to captivate through its final reel. A premiere in Berlin’s Panorama section should drum up some niche sales for this very Gallic take on love and marriage, which rolls out locally on March 5.

Pomme (Devos) has been together with Pierre (Amalric) for a long time. So long, in fact, that the two exist in a constant state of friction, forever on the brink of screaming or crying -- or in one hilarious scene, laughing in lieu of crying -- for the most minor reason imaginable, if there’s a reason at all. Although we soon learn that Pomme’s just been through a brain operation, the problem doesn’t lie there, but in the fact that she’s allowed Pierre’s daily, intolerable cruelties to get the better of her.

But that’s about to change when, during one of the couple’s routine hikes in the woods, Pomme decides to venture out on her own and, well, never come back. Settling into the wild while Pierre goes through various states of resentment and rejection at home, Pomme tries to live life on her own terms, which involves sleeping on a pile of logs, saving a baby deer and hoarding whatever food is left in her knapsack.

It’s an intriguing premise -- and one reminiscent of recent French woman-on-the-run films like On My Way and Lulu in the Nude -- that unfortunately isn’t taken very far by Fillieres, who leaves too much room for dead air, including numerous scenes of Pomme wandering in circles around the wilderness, even if a latter sequence involving a group of musicians garners a few welcome laughs.

Much stronger are the many tete-a-tetes between Pomme and Pierre, particularly a clever number where the two sadly try to share a bottle of frozen champagne. Such moments are marked by the terrific comic timing of Devos (Violette) and Amarlic (in Berlinale opener The Grand Budapest Hotel) -- two veterans who’ve worked a number of times together, most famously in the films of Arnaud Desplechin (Kings and Queen, A Christmas Tale).

But such chemistry can’t entirely make up for the fact that Fillieres -- who cast Devos as the lead in her 2005 psychiatric hospital comedy, Gentille -- never carries her concept anyplace convincing, relying too much on flat deadpan dialogue that recalls many an American indie comedy, while forcing a rom-com conclusion that doesn’t feel entirely earned.

Alongside the two leads are supporters Josephine de La Baume (Listen Up Phillip), playing a drop-dead gorgeous mom who may or may not be after Pierre, and newcomer Nelson Delapalme as a teenager way wiser than the adults around him.

Tech credits are highlighted by Emmanuelle Colinot’s crisp lensing, which brings out the bucolic beauty of the forest where Pomme sets up permanent camp.

Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Panorama Special)

Production companies: Pierre Grise Productions, Rhone-Alpes Cinema

Cast: Emmanuelle Devos, Mathieu Amalric, Anne Brochet, Josephine de La Baume

Director, screenwriter: Sophie Fillieres

Producers: Maurice Tinchant, Martine Marignac

Director of photography: Emmanuelle Collinot

Production designer: Manu de Chauvigny

Costume designer: Carole Gerard

Editor: Valerie Loiseleux

Music: Christophe

Sales agent: Les Films du Losange

No rating, 102 minutes