Sophie Fillière’s Arrete ou Je Continue is an overlong dissection of the dying embers of a relationship pulled out of the ordinary by a witty script and stellar performances from the two leading actors.
Mathieu Amalric and Emmanuelle Devos are Pierre and Pomme, a couple in their late forties, who have been together for an eternity. Are they still in love or has their relationship become a routine part of their lives? They continue to act as a couple – having dinner with friends and spending the weekend on long rambles in the nearby forest. It’s at the end of one of these long walks that Pomme refuses to return home. Pierre leaves her behind in the forest to fend for herself and returns to the apartment alone.
Through brief snatches of conversation, it’s apparent Pomme is recovering from surgery to remove a benign brain tumour. This brush with mortality triggers her need to know whether Pierre is still in love with her and sets the scene for a series of fabulously sparky exchanges between the two. Pomme pushes and provokes Pierre for a reaction – anything, even rejection, will do – while Pierre takes a sadistic pleasure in refusing to give her the reassurance she needs. His feelings for Pomme are a mystery – it’s impossible to tell whether he loves her or the verbal games they both indulge in. The film cleverly rocks back-and-forth between comedy and tragedy without ever losing the audience’s sympathy for the two main characters.
Unfortunately, Pomme’s Into the Wild-moment in the second half of the film is less satisfactory and the rhythm set earlier stutters and fails. There’s a sense of anti-climax as the story is wrapped up coldly and quickly.
Amalric and Devos have worked together several times most notably in Arnaud Desplechin’s Comment Je me Suis Disputé…(Ma Vie Sexuelle) – (My Sex Life… or How I got into an argument) in 1996 and Kings and Queen in 2004. Physically, they are an odd couple. She is voluptuous and sexy while he is small and lupine. But artistically, they are a match made in heaven. Amalric in particular is an incredibly versatile actor. He is one of the few Francophone actors to have successfully crossed over into English language films. He is currently on screen in Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel and starred alongside Beneficio del Toro in Desplechin’s Jimmy P.
Fillière’s film has also tapped into a cinematic Zeitgeist – middle-aged woman impulsively walking away from their everyday lives in search of a new direction. Arrête ou Je Continue joins Emmanuelle Bercot’s Elle S’en Va and Solveig Anspach’s Lulu Femme Nue. Coincidence or a sign that French cinema has found a rich source of new material?