Set over the course of several decades, An Impossible Love is a love story told through the words of the protagonists’ daughter, slowly revealing a bleakness underneath the picturesque French scenery and fashion.
Virginie Efira (Elle) plays Rachel, a secretary in 1950s France, who falls head over heels for Phillipe (Niels Schneider). Whilst Rachel is a hybrid of sweetness and naivety, Phillipe is a collection of affectations in a pair of skinny jeans. On their first date together, he takes great delight in Rachel having never heard of Nietzsche, becoming giddy at the prospect of lending her not one, but two of his works. He also sports a fine line of racism running through his core, which Rachel manages to overlook because of her affection for him. When she falls pregnant, however, Phillipe runs away from fatherhood, returning intermittently to see his daughter, Chantal and play with Rachel’s simmering devotion to him.
Directed by Catherine Corsini (Summertime, Leaving), and based on the book by Christine Angot, An Impossible Love follows Rachel as she fights for Phillipe to recognise his daughter. Being a single mother in the ‘60s is never touched upon; Corsini focuses solely on Rachel’s struggle and her constant, almost tragic hope that Phillipe will stay for longer than one night in bed with her. All of this would be enough to fill two melodramas, but a third act reveal rachets up the drama to a point that borders on horrific.
Those familiar with Angot’s book and her other work will know exactly where the film is headed once Phillipe returns (again) to check in on his now teenage daughter. Taking a much darker turn, An Impossible Love charts how Phillipe, hiding in the shadows, continues to flex his dominance over the two women.
It says something of Schneider’s (Heartbeats) performance that his shadow looms heavily over the rest of the film. Estelle Lescure and Jehnny Beth play the adolescent and adult Chantal, both bringing a brooding intensity to the role that echoes Schneider’s earlier scenes. As Rachel, Efira tries to muscle through the darkness, it’s a tragedy watching her realise almost too late where her sights should be set.
Despite all of its strengths, the film’s greatest weakness comes after the aforementioned third act revelation. Both women know of Phillipe’s secret and yet, not realising they both know, they refuse to talk about it. An Impossible Love charges through the scenario with the 30-something Chantal snarling at an elderly Rachel. It doesn’t need to be spelt out that the daughter has become the father, and yet the film feels the need to dress her up as him and talk like him. It just feels a little heavy handed in light of how it tackles other topics.
What is wanted instead is more shared screen time with Beth and Efira as they navigate the weight of 30 years of an oppressive patriarchy. This may all sound like a minor quibble but having spent so long leading its audience to this point, it feels that they, like Rachel, deserve a better send off.