Claire Denis’ “Both Sides of the Blade” was almost unfortunately, vaguely titled “Fire” in the U.S. after premiering at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year. Thankfully, Denis and distributor IFC Films are sticking to the muchbetter original title, named for a song composed by Denis stalwart Tindersticks, for this moody romantic drama starring Juliette Binoche as a radio journalist flailing in a messy love triangle.
Denis adapts Christine Angot’s 2018 novel “Un tournant de la vie,” about a romantic entanglement spiraling out of control. Star Binoche does a complete 180 on the searching idealist she played in Denis’ 2017 “Let the Sunshine In,” here as radio journalist Sara. She’s been in a passionate, loving, and stable relationship with her ex-con boyfriend Jean (Vincent Lindon) for ten years (and Denis’ camera doesn’t flinch at the bodily particulars of their lusty vigor). But before they met, Sara was with François (Grégoire Colin), who also happens to be Jean’s best friend. And one day, in walks François back into Sara’s life via a chance sighting, and while François doesn’t see Sara at first, she becomes engulfed by the possibilities of what another life with him could be.
As ever, Denis charts how the vicissitudes of modern life (even COVID face masks feature prominently here) get in the way of meaningful romantic connections. Binoche is enthralling to watch in freefall as she waffles and flounders between two loves, with the erupting jealousy between Jean and François threatening to capsize it all.
Lindon, who last starred for Denis in her 2013 thriller “Bastards,” recently headed up the Cannes jury that awarded Denis her first major competition prize — the Grand Prix for A24’s upcoming Nicaragua-set “Stars at Noon,” starring Margaret Qualley and Joe Alwyn.
Denis, during a panel at New York’s Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in March, said that “Both Sides of the Blade” was almost her last film, and that Lindon helped pull her out of a pandemic rut to make the movie. “Vincent Lindon called me and said, ‘You cannot stay home and be cooking all the time. It’s insane. Please, you can write a story during the summer and we can shoot in the winter,’” Denis said. “I thought, ‘No, no, no, I can’t.’ Vincent said, ‘We don’t know what the future is going to be so please do it.’” Denis added, “Somehow, it was easier than I thought.”
Denis went on to win the Silver Bear at the Berlinale for “Both Sides of the Blade.” Read David Ehrlich’s review of the film here.
The movie releases only in theaters on July 8. Watch the trailer below.