an impossible love

- Review by Christopher Kestell

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Catherine Corsini’s An Impossible Love is a drama spanning six decades, following the fraught relationship between a passionate couple in 1950s France and the unsteady coming-of-age of the child the pair conceive. Starring Virginie Efira and Niels Schneider as the lovers and the outstanding Estelle Lescure as the teenage incarnation of their daughter, Chantal. An Impossible Love is a gruelling and nervous character study as rewarding as it is difficult.

The main strength of this film, adapted from the 2015 Christine Angot novel of the same name, lies in its performances. Efira and Schneider aptly carry their characters across the story’s many decades. This is particularly true of Efira’s portrayal of Rachel, who we see subtly morph from an inexperienced and love-drunk twenty-something into a wearied yet resilient grandmother (this transformation also being a testament to some fantastic make-up, hair, and costume design). The transformation of Schneider’s Philippe, who quickly establishes himself as the quasi-villain of the piece, is subtler and more meritorious for its subtlety. He grows from mere pretentious and domineering into a man so lost in the numbing effect of a twisted logic that he rejects the criminal harm he does to those who love him. However, the true stand out performance comes from Estelle Lescure, who makes a staggering film debut. From childish petulance, to exuberant glee, to moments of gut-wrenching darkness that audiences may find difficult to sit through, Lescure is mesmerising. Of the three actresses who play Chantal throughout her life, Lescure is given the most screen time, and in a film where trying mother-daughter conversations are the bedrock of the narrative, her dramatic presence amidst the power struggles and tender recognitions is perfect.

Despite performances that few could fault, many will not enjoy this film, probably due to a key trade-off that Corsini takes a gamble on: running for 2 hours and 15 minutes. There are few spikes in dramatic action over the course of An Impossible Love, with Corsini instead choosing to drip-feed the plot around her characters, granting a tangibility to the long and hard duration of their struggles. This treatment of a story with impressive temporal scope rewards the viewer with the feeling of having a profound understanding of the relationship between Rachel and her daughter Chantal, the true ‘impossible love’ of the film’s title, yet it comes at the price of a familiar and entertaining arced narrative. That is to say, each scene leads to its eventual reward in its production of formidably real characters, but the journey itself feels like a long one. Some will love Corsini’s preference here, while others will lament it.

That said, An Impossible Love finds its only true fault in an overbearing recap/moralising final scene that reeks of doing an audience’s job for them, this seemingly being Corsini’s attempt at a conclusive ‘synthesis’ for her narrative statement. Beyond that, Corsini and crew have created a truly admirable film which masterfully shifts between the hopelessly romantic and the unflinchingly traumatic, and from the heavily depressing to the affectingly humorous, with ease.

An Impossible Love runs at the Irish Film Institute from January 4th.