When a sexually compulsive affair kicks in, it can be wholly indulgent erotic bliss—for a while. Eventually the outside world and its irritating circumstances intervene and complicate the situation. This is exactly what happens in A Simple Passion, Danielle Arbid’s directorial adaptation of the book by the famous French writer Annie Ernault.
Hélène (Laetitia Doche), a literature professor and single mother, and Alexander (Sergey Polunin), a married, slightly gangster employee at the Russian embassy in France, discover a strong physical connection almost immediately. Their intimacy is conveyed in high-energy sex scenes that fill the screen with the flesh of the performers.
If their dialogue doesn’t immediately communicate that they see their romance differently, the soundtrack does. As Hélène is dressing for the date, we hear Gilbert Bécaud’s upbeat pop tune “C’est Merveilleux L’Amour”. While Alexander is driving around in his powerful car, we hear the booming, gloomy “Cheree” Suicide.
While maintaining a solid feminine perspective, “A Simple Passion” follows an arc so standard it could be called trite. The couple’s lack of compatibility outside of what director Preston Sturges once called “Theme A” creates friction. Alexander criticizes Helen for wearing what he considers to be a too tight skirt. Helen makes the strategic mistake of declaring that she loves him while they are having sex. She also becomes so distracted that, at one point, she nearly hits her own child by hitting a car. It’s new, at least.
When Helen flies to Moscow in pursuit of her lover, her wanderings through the snowy streets are accompanied by Leonard Cohen’s Song of the Stranger. The choice seems forced, like a replacement for a dramatic performance that Arbid and company can’t handle. Likewise, resolving a picture with a voice-over talking about the satisfactory completion of some kind of inner journey is completely unconvincing.
Not rated. In French, with subtitles. Duration: 1 hour 39 minutes. In theaters.