Sunday, January 22, 2017

Pierre Godeau's DOWN BY LOVE: the old set-in-prison, forbidden-love-story told anew

TrustMovies would guess that just about every country has its own tale -- probably many of them -- like this one (god know, the U.S. has had its share down the decades) in which a prisoner and a prison guard/warden/ worker fall in love/lust and get it on, with consequences that vary from unpleasant to all-out death and destruction. DOWN BY LOVE (Eperdument). Pierre Godeau's intelligent and mostly riveting new film, based on a true tale of just this sort of situation that occurred in France some five years ago, is most interesting for what it leaves out.

M. Godeau (shown at right), who both directed and adapted his screenplay from the book about the case co-written by Florent Gonçalves (the actual warden in the case), seems to me to have tried to give both of the lovers' points of view so as not to weigh things too heavily in favor of the warden. Godeau does not, for instance, deign to let us know for what crime, exactly, our heroine has been imprisoned. (Some research on my part leads me to conclude that the girl had acted as the "lure" in entrapping a young Jewish man who was then kidnapped, tortured and died at the hands of a gang of thugs who were Muslims. That case, in turn, was the basis of another good film covered here two years back entitled 24 Days.)

The relationship between the warden and his prisoner is first shown and then grown via small increments that demonstrate the connection between the two, which appears quite mutual. Before long, the passion is so strong and intense that it begins to topple all else, including intelligent behavior on the part of the warden, if not the prisoner -- who, after all, remains "under his thumb" because of her status. In many ways, however, it is clear that she calls the shots.

In the leading roles are two César-winning actors of growing international renown: Adèle Exarchopoulos (of Blue Is the Warmest Color) and Guillaume Gallienne (practically unrecognizable here as the man who gave us Me, Myself and Mum). Their performances are reason enough to see the film: rich, strange and always believable. If you've ever been "head-over-heels," you'll understand perfectly the actions of both characters, even as you roll your eyes in recognition of the stupidity of it all.

By concentrating on the ups and downs of the love relationship above all else, M. Godeau ensures that we'll stick with the tale, no matter how egregious some of the actions are. So good are both actors at convincing us of their absolute dedication to this "amor fou" (even if the motives of one of the two are often foggy) we -- just as do many of the film's supporting characters -- forgive their idiocy, even as we realize that there will probably be hell to pay.

Down the decades, the French have proven awfully good at love stories -- crazy love in particular -- and this is one of the better examples of the (sub)genre. Godeau's attention to detail, as well as his refusal to divulge too much, carries the day. His ending is especially succulent. He doesn't bother to tell us what happens to these characters, as so many based-on-real-events movies choose to do. But just one look at the final expression of the faces of our two lovebirds makes everything clear enough.

From Distrib Films US in French with English subtitles, and running a long but not too-long 110 minutes, Down by Love reaches the USA next Tuesday, January 31, on iTunes and then the following Monday, February 6 via Google Play, Amazon, Comcast, Charter, and Vudu.

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