Directed by Anne Fontaine
Written by Doris Lessing, Anne Fontaine, Christopher Hampton
Produced by Philippe Carcassonne, Michel Feller, Barbara Gibbs, Andrew Mason, Dominique Besnehard, Francis Boespflug, Sidonie Dumas, Troy Lum, Naomi Watts
Starring Naomi Watts, Robin Wright, Xavier Samuel, James Frecheville, Ben Mendelsohn, Jessica Tovey, Sophie Lowe, Gary Sweet
No customary taboo known to this critic would contribute to the obloquy of a widow (Watts) and divorcee (Wright), lifelong friends who covertly bed each others’ sons (Samuel, Frecheville) by spleens of sheer concupiscence that flower to an adoration of abiding ardency. Her widely derided Anglophonic foray finds Fontaine handily adapting Lessing’s short story with a tenderness necessary to buoy it well above depths of incidentally ithyphallic indulgence without hazarding surplus schmalz, a precarious balance braced by the art of its principals, a littoral home to which their characters are bound as much as to one another, and Christophe Beaucarne’s photography, illuminating their natural beauty. That inevitably controversial premise is more provocative but hardly so arresting as the picture’s suggested, secondary subjects: true friendship’s felicity and fidelity, silent surges of incipient sex, furtive first kisses more fervent than all following and a quiet misery attending the ineludible cosmetic depredations of middle age, personified by Watts in starkly unbecoming close-ups for which she commendably sacrificed a volume of vanity to enact. Too often, Christopher Gordon’s score confers cloyingness rendering scenes unsavory that might’ve been quietly profound, but otherwise this quasi-incestuous convergence of aberrant and amative lusts is for its erotic and consequential insights deserving of some reappraisal.