At the end of a relationship, “together” and “apart” sometimes blur

At the end of a relationship, “together” and “apart” sometimes blur

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Hate Valentine’s Day? We’ve lined up a week of holiday counter-programming, the best break-up movies and anti-love stories available.

We Won’t Grow Old Together (1972)

Jerry Seinfeld once joked that ending a relationship is like knocking over a Coke machine: You’ve got to give it a few good shoves before it comes crashing down. A more serious, less soda-centric illustration of this point can be found in Maurice Pialat’s 1972 bad romance, We Won’t Grow Old Together. Unlike most breakup movies, which tend to delineate between together and apart, this caustic classic of French cinema exists in a kind of torturous purgatory—the protracted final stage of a doomed love affair, when neither partner is able or willing to admit that they’re fighting for something that’s already over. “It’s dead,” aspiring actress Catherine (Marlène Jobert) tells fortysomething filmmaker Jean (Jean Yanne) in the film’s opening scenes. Though she’ll quickly redact the sentence, agreeing to keep playing mistress for the married man who treats her like dirt, her words ring completely true. Their relationship is dead; by keeping it on life support, the two are just delaying the inevitable.

Speaking of delays, it took We Won’t Grow Old Together 40 years to open in America; though it premiered to great acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival, where Yanne won a Best Actor prize, a 35mm print didn’t hit U.S. arthouse theaters until 2012. The long wait can partially be blamed on a lack of local interest in Pialat, who was never greeted with the enthusiasm lavished upon many of his New Wave contemporaries. Still, no change in byline would make this grueling study of love-gone-sour look like a safe box-office bet. Unfolding as a perpetual cycle of epic fights and hasty reconciliations, the film exists in a state of constant distress, its unhappy lovers forever on the precipice of a permanent separation. Pialat, who reportedly modeled the central partnership on a real chapter of his own fucked-up love life, invests the romantic warfare with uncomfortable perceptiveness. (It helps that he’s cast Yanne, daringly toxic in his paralysis, as an on-screen surrogate.) We Won’t Grow Old Together breaks its breakup into tiny, painful moments out of time—which is to say, it’s like watching a car crash in extreme slow-motion. Only the emotionally squeamish will be able to look away.

Availability: We Won’t Grow Old Together is available only to purchase on iTunes.

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