Our look at 1983’s best films begins with the family drama À Nos Amours

Our look at 1983’s best films begins with the family drama À Nos Amours

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Instead of pegging our picks to a new release, we’re running through the best movies of 1983.

À Nos Amours (1983)

In 1983, French director Maurice Pialat released his sixth feature, À Nos Amours. The title usually remains untranslated—partly because its English version, “To Our Loves,” is hopelessly nondescript—and officially has a period at the end of it, just like Spike Jonze’s Adaptation. But the film’s name is accurate in its declarative flatness: It is a dedication not to specific loved ones, but to acts of loving, in with all their raw, horrendous complications.

À Nos Amours is the story of 15-year-old Suzanne, a restless and intelligent young girl struggling to develop her identity outside the confines of her stifling Parisian family. As portrayed by the great Sandrine Bonnaire, in her debut role, Suzanne is a bundle of contradictions. She is sexually precocious and seemingly detached, giving the impression of someone trying on adulthood like a series of new outfits. Part of what makes À Nos Amours. so disconcerting is Bonnaire’s natural features—her chiseled chin, her thick eyebrows and radiant hazel eyes—that make her look like a miniature woman rather than the child she obviously is.

To add to the cognitive dissonance, Pialat plays the role of Suzanne’s smothering father. The positions of father/daughter and director/ingénue seem oddly permeable in this context, especially because Pialat was a notoriously difficult on-set patriarch. The very heart of À Nos Amours is Suzanne’s need to negotiate her relationship with her father, particularly after he abandons the family at the film’s midway point. Her string of loveless affairs, while never reducible to a simple Electra complex, are undoubtedly more than youthful exploration. Once the father departs, the film and the family both come undone, and we see how Suzanne’s sexuality (and its connection to her father’s watchful eye) was a keystone for the entire clan’s psychological repression. Her mother (Evelyne Ker) and older brother (Dominique Besnehard) begin beating her physically and calling her as a slut, as though she were responsible for “breaking” the family. 

Fascinatingly, Pialat’s cinematic style becomes “broken” as well. He’s a filmmaker known for an essentially realist approach, disrupted by seemingly normal cuts between scenes that, upon momentary investigation, actually represent huge temporal gaps. He will, for instance, cut quite casually between a shot in which the father announces that he is leaving, and a follow-up shot that is actually six months later, without any obvious cinematic cues to alert viewers to the time gap. Only as the subsequent scene plays out do viewers realize that time has been “lost,” or simply not represented. 

While Pialat does this in almost all of his films, À Nos Amours treats this technique as a kind of symptom of the rupture of the father’s departure. Time is fairly continuous until the paterfamilias splits; after that, the film becomes jagged and the characters’ ability to live compromised. Maybe it’s a reflection of Suzanne’s gap-ridden memory, but more likely, Pialat is depicting something akin to the experience of pushing through a “traumatic time.” It is no spoiler to note that Suzanne escapes from this dysfunctional space, and so perhaps this is why À Nos Amours has the feel of a glance backward. Only by leaving behind her broken family can the young woman identify the love that was always there.

Availability: À Nos Amours is available on Criterion DVD (obtainable through Netflix’s disc-delivery service) and can also be streamed on Hulu Plus.

Filed Under: Film, 1983 Week

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