Review: Both Sides of the Blade

Written and directed by Claire Denis, co-written by Christine Angot, a love triangle story about a woman caught between two men, her long-time partner and his best friend, her former lover. Starring: Juliette Binoche, Vincent Lindon, Grégoire Colin, Bulle Ogier, Issa Perica, Alice Houri and Mati Diop.

If you’re looking for a typical romantic entanglement, Both Sides of the Blade is probably not for you, think more along the lines of Before Midnight but without the academic, intellectual angle. It’s a swift change of pace from Claire Denis’ last outing, this time coming in with a chaotic and frantic energy. There’s a huge amount of tension and where you might be expecting warmth and sentimentality, you’ll find a coldness and mysterious edge. It has a toxicity hanging in the air, Denis’ direction embraces the intensity, creating a touch of claustrophobia. It also nicely reflects the constantly changing nature to their relationship, a mix of some slow, intimate shots and some coarse, fast editing.

The romance of the story is draped in sexuality, their affection for one another completely surrounds the physical. Outside of that their relationships are easily combustible, they come across as people who struggle with commitment and emotional attachment. It’s akin to mid-life crises but instead of outlandish purchases or lifestyle changes, they revert to a 20 year-old’s style mentality of flip-flopping on their feelings. The problem is, that’s the entirety of the story, there isn’t a huge amount of time spent building their backstories or even their personalities to some extent, it’s very contained within a short amount of time. It lacks a bigger intrigue or raison d’être, the progression is messy, there’s a few extra tangents thrown in which don’t add much and none of the characters are particularly likeable, with the exception of Nelly (Bulle Ogier). It would almost have been more interesting if Vincent Lindon and Grégoire Colin were the ones rekindling a lost relationship.

Where the story may be somewhat lacking, the performances are not which is no surprise coming from this high class trio. Juliette Binoche is relentlessly dependable, there’s never a weak moment and out of the three, she most highly embraces that combustible and interchangeable nature to these relationships. Vincent Lindon has a huge presence, he’s a force to be reckoned with and lets it be known, he can go from romantic and vulnerable to aggressive in the blink of an eye. Grégoire Colin provides the unknown element to the triangle, he’s a mysterious figure lingering to destroy their relationship, before throwing himself into the mix. He most strongly characterises that especially youthful attitude towards relationships, not thinking through the consequences just interested in getting what he wants, and getting it now.

Both Sides of the Blade is a tumultuous affair, traversing toxic relationships and temptations. However, it lacks a larger romantic or layered feel to see it through, it mostly stays within close quarters and doesn’t expand. Though no fault can be put on the shoulders of its leading trio Juliette Binoche, Vincent Lindon and Grégoire Colin all give intense and chaotic performances. It’s well shot, well intentioned and erotically charged but there just isn’t enough to keep you engaged.

Verdict: ✯✯½ | 5/10

Coming to UK cinemas from September 9

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