Hélène (Laetitia Dosch) is a French woman, a mother, a professor. The movie’s IMDB synopsis describes her lover’s career as “Russian diplomat” but diplomat must be a French euphemism for thug. Alexandre (Sergei Polunin) is, at best, a Russian diplomat’s shady head of security, maybe. And it wasn’t the prison tattoos that gave it away, it was that damn wispy mustache.
We can assume they have nothing in common because they almost never speak. We know little about her, actually, and even less about him. She’s single, he’s married (to a wife back home in Russia, presumably). He’s not young, but a little younger than Hélène. And he’s got all the control in this relationship, because he calls her, when he’s horny and available, and she drops everything, even her son, to be with him for a few hours in bed. Granted, they’re passionate hours, and the camera spends as much as 90% of the movie roaming up and down the contours of their bodies as they fuck in nearly all the positions there are for fucking, and a few I’m pretty sure they threw in just see if I was paying attention. These two make the jerks in 50 Shades of Whatever look like prudes.
So I may not know much about Hélène, but I do know she loves that sweet D. She’s gotta have it. She gets nothing out of this relationship but frustration, heartache, and on the lucky days, a good dicking. But on the other days, she starts coming apart. She starts making more demands on his time, which only makes him pull away further, but she can’t help it, she’s obsessed. She’s addicted. She even tries to quit him, and finds she can’t. She has no resolve when he’s around. It’s rather undignified. Rather pathetic, really, to watch a smart and polished woman lose her shit over a guy with a wispy mustache.
Writer-director Danielle Arbid adapts Annie Ernaux’s novel for the screen, and there’s no doubt she is a fan of the material, and eager to put real flesh on those bones. However, her keen eye and high tolerance for erotica aren’t enough alone to explain Hélène’s intoxication for this man. The pounding of their bodies is enthusiastic but hardly tender. Without sustained conversation, or an emotional connection, this relationship feels cold and transactional. The only way this movie moved me was when I realized these colleagues had been humping each other raw for weeks if not months. It didn’t shock me, it didn’t turn me on, but most egregiously, it didn’t convince me.