For his second feature, director Pierre Godeau’s has drafted in two of the finest of a younger generation of French actors. Guillaume Gallienne of the prestigious La Comédie Française who drew rave reviews for his directorial debut Les Garcons, et Guillaume, à Table for which he also received the 2014 Best Actor César. And Adèle Exarchopoulos who first came to the public’s attention in Abdellatif Kechiche’s Palme d’Or winning La Vie d’Adèle (Blue is the Warmest Colour). But not even these two talented actors can lift Godeau’s pedestrian tale of a prison director’s illicit love affair with a female inmate out of the ordinary. It’s the stuff of TV drama and just as easily digested and forgotten. Despite the French title, the love affair is a passionless, tawdry affair not helped by the down-at-heel prison setting. Exactly why the director Jean Firmino (Gallienne) would risk everything for Anna Amari (Exarchopoulos) is just one of the more baffling aspects of this disappointingly unengaging film.
Jean Firmino is happily married to Elise (Stéphanie Cleau) and together they have a young daughter, Louise. He is the hands-on director of a women’s prison fully involved in the day-today-running of the institution. Anna is already several years into a long sentence for an unspecified crime when she is transferred to Firmino’s prison to be closer to her family. Firmino finds himself drawn to the attractive, enigmatic Anna and his desire to help her improve her education soon becomes an all-consuming passion for the young woman. Anna reciprocates and the two are caught in a dangerous relationship both are powerless to end.
Exarchopoulos has yet to reproduce the success of Blue is the Warmest Colour. Her last two French films – Marianne Tardieu’s Qui Vive and Elie Wajeman’s Les Anarchistes previewed in last year’s Cannes Critics Week – were low-key affairs. And Exarchopoulos runs the risk of constantly playing second fiddle in films which showing a mostly male point of view. She is beautiful and talented and deserves better. Gallienne camped it up beautifully in Les Garcons, et Guillaume, à Table and was excellent as Yves Saint Laurent’s life-partner and right-hand man, Pierre Bergé, in Jalil Lespert’s film of the same name. But he fails to bring his usual touch of originality to the role of Firmino. It’s to be hoped his next film, Danièle Thompson’s Cézanne et Moi, due out in France later this year sees a return to form.