Sandrine Bonnaire announces herself as one of French cinema’s most compelling actresses in what could be one of Pialat’s most beloved works, which charts the sexual awakening of a teenage girl living with her dysfunctional family.
Dir. Maurice Pialat
1983 | France | Drama/Romance | 99 min | 1.66:1 | French & English
NC16 (passed clean) for some nudity
Cast: Sandrine Bonnaire, Maurice Pialat, Christophe Odent
Plot: 15-year-old Suzanne seeks refuge from a disintegrating family in a series of impulsive, promiscuous affairs. Her fulsome sexuality further ratchets up the suppressed passions of her narcissistic brother, insecure mother and brooding, authoritarian father.
Awards: Nom. for Golden Bear (Berlinale)
Subject Matter: Moderate – Sexual Awakening; Dysfunctional Family
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
This is my first time venturing into the works of Maurice Pialat. Often regarded as one of the director’s most beloved films, À nos amours (or ‘To Our Loves’) seems like a good place to start.
Furthermore, it stars 16-year-old Sandrine Bonnaire in her breakthrough role as she announces herself as one of French cinema’s most compelling actresses. She would elevate her reputation even further with Agnes Varda’s Vagabond (1985).
Here, she plays Suzanne, a teenager living with her dysfunctional family who finds herself starting to have sexual encounters with boys and young men. As she has her sexual awakening, Suzanne must also try to find a stable version of herself within her private erotic acts and fiery conflicts with her family members.
“Life’s no fun when you don’t love anyone.”
‘Love’ is rendered elusive in Pialat’s film. Suzanne has little in her to understand it; at the same time, her love for her father is stretched thin when personal values misalign.
Bonnaire’s riveting performance allows us to walk in her shoes, with Pialat’s realist approach amplifying the scenes of emotional torment that regularly punctuate the drama. For instance, there is a long but unforgettable dinner table sequence that is as extraordinary as any in French cinema.
There are also instances of physical abuse (for example, Suzanne’s controlling older brother hits her regularly) in a domestic setting that would seem unimaginable in a middle-class family trying to sort itself out.
À nos amours is a film that only the French could make and get away with showing a young actress in the nude in highly-sexual situations. If it was remade today in America, the film would have long been cancelled.