French writer/director Stephane Brize's Not Here To Be Loved is the slow-burning, yet poignant account of an unlikely romance between divorced 50-year-old bailiff Jean-Claude (Patrick Chesnais) and school counsellor Francoise (Anne Consigny), who's on the verge of getting married. Exploring how unhappiness is passed down from parents to children, Brize pares the story down to its essentials, and elicits beautifully nuanced performances from his leads.
The early scenes of Not Here to be Loved establish how weighed down the taciturn Jean-Claude feels by his everyday existence. He endures a thankless job, struggles to communicate with his grown-up son who has joined the family business, and every Sunday visits his bullying, fault-finding father (Georges Wilson), who's confined to a nursing home. At a tango class - his doctor has suggested some exercise - Jean-Claude meets the engaged Francoise, who herself feels constrained by what her family, especially her domineering mother, expects her to do with her life.
"A WELCOME VEIN OF DRY HUMOUR"
What's moving here is the fact that the characters find it so difficult to express their feelings of love, whether to partners or relatives. Brize skilfully uses the mournful tango score to convey their unspoken yearnings, and the cramped, sometimes spartan interiors reinforce the theme of entrapment. Although the prevailing mood is melancholic, there's also a welcome vein of dry humour at work here, much of it provided by the poker-faced Chesnais. And the ending suggests that Jean-Claude and Francoise may at last have freed themselves from some of the emotional shackles imposed on them by their respective families.
In French with English subtitles.
Not Here To Be Loved is released in UK cinemas on Friday 8th June 2007.