We've seen films about love triangles before, but director Claire Denis's Both Sides of the Blade delves into the complications that arise when conflicted characters find themselves occupying the same constricted circle.
Juliette Binoche plays Sara, a radio talk show host who's been living with Jean (Vincent Lindon), an ex-ruby player who spent time in prison for a crime that the screenplay never specifies.
Judging by the film's romantic opening -- the couple on a beach vacation -- Sara and John are happy. When a film begins with such relaxed, sensuous ease, we can be sure that a wave is about to crash.
It does, but slowly, which means that Denis reveals more and more about her characters as the film progresses.
On her way to work one day, Sara sees Francois (Gregoire Colin), the former lover with whom she was living when she met Jean. Old feelings rekindle.
The characters are mired in complicated situations. Jean travels to a nearby town to visit his mother (Bulle Ogier). She's taking care of Jean's mixed-race son (Issa Perica) who has been getting in trouble in school. Jean's ex-wife has left the country.
For his part, Francois decides to start a sports agency. He hires Jean, who has an eye for on-the-field talent and we get the feeling that Francois and Jean might have more history than their connections to Sara.
Binoche gives another exceptional performance as a woman who lies to Jean about the affair she's having with Francois. Sara seems to want both the excitement of spontaneous passion and the stable predictability of her relationship with Jean.
The character of Francois isn't as well-developed as either Jean or Sara, but Colin and Binoche create the kind of sparks that make it clear that the fire between them hasn't gone out.
Few actresses convey ambiguity as well as Binoche, who always seems a step or two beyond the confinement of any single definition. You'll either find this puzzling or intriguing. I'd opt for the latter or maybe a bit of both.
Two Side of the Blade involves two memorable characters who find themselves in a relationship in which they're trying to deny the power of personal history.
The film's English title, by the way. comes from a song by the English band Tindersticks. Binoche’s portrayal of Sara’s attempt to negotiate two sides of the same coin (or blade, if you prefer) captivates, maddens, and -- in the end -- makes Denis's film linger in the mind.