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Thursday, December 9, 2021

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Why Haven’t You Seen…? Not Here to be Loved

Dir: Stephane Brize

Happy Valentine’s Day. This week, WHYS is marking the holiday, but this being a series on obscure films, I couldn’t just bring you some traditional Valentine movie (trust me, there’s enough of that about without me getting in on it). So this is perhaps a more bittersweet pick than most, but no less good for that.

If you’ve seen, or subsequently see, any of the movies I’ve featured on WHYS, or if you’ve got a suggestion for a title I should review here in future then please use the comments or drop me an email at sam@24fps.org.uk

What’s It All About?
50 year old bailiff Jean-Claude (Patrick Chesnais) is told by his doctor to get more exercise, so he joins a tango class where he meets Francoise (Anne Consigny), a woman in her early 30’s learning to dance for her upcoming wedding. A friendship develops between them, and it seems like there might be more there.

Why Haven’t You Seen It?
I’ve noted it before, but only a very few foreign language films each year break out of the arthouse ghetto, and this was one that never quite managed that feat. It’s perhaps because it’s not an easy sell, doesn’t lend itself to a being reduced to a jaunty two minute trailer and its quiet, unsentimental, take on the world doesn’t easily fit into a soundbite. Like many other fine films, this one got a bit lost in the shuffle.

Why Should You See It?
Not Here to be Loved, unlike many films about unexpected attraction, doesn’t sentimentalise its subject. In fact this is often a rather downbeat film. For about 20 minutes there is little hint of the major storyline, instead we follow Jean-Claude’s banal and depressing life; from his hated job as a bailiff to the soul destroying visits to see his curmudgeonly Father (Georges Wilson). It’s only once Jean-Claude attends his first dance class, and meets the beautiful Francoise, that we start to see another side to him and to the film.

The relationship between Jean-Claude and Francoise grows slowly and credibly; she chooses to dance with him because another man at the class won’t leave her alone; she asks him for a ride home when she misses her bus, through these small encounters a connection grows. Much of their relationship unfolds without dialogue, played in glances and in dances. In many films that rely on physical action for a large part of their running time the story stops dead for that action. Not so here. Every dance scene is also a character scene, each one wordlessly advancing the connection between these two rather lonely people (Francoise seems to love her fiancĂ©, but he’s inattentive, paying more attention to the novel he can’t finish). When Jean-Claude and Francoise first dance together there is a clear comfort, and that grows in each subsequent scene, introducing a believable sexual tension to what should seem a very odd couple.

Many of the best moments are played silently on Chesnais and Consigny’s faces, from a scene at a dance recital where they exchange glances from their different places in the audience to the wonderful moment when they kiss. Consigny is especially great in that scene, showing Francoise resisting the moment, but also giving into it, a whole set of complex emotions in one silent moment.

This is not to say that the dialogue isn’t excellent, Jean-Claude has a nice awkwardness about him (see the very funny scene in which he tries to find exactly the right perfume to buy Francoise), but Chesnais also makes the harder side of the character believable, as in the shattering scene when Francoise comes to Jean-Claude’s office. For her part, the radiant Anne Consigny is perfectly cast, and charm itself, as Francoise. She could quite easily have been a male fantasy, but Consigny finds great depths in her. Consigny is a wonderful listener and reactor, her side of that scene in Jean-Claude’s office is heartbreakingly perfect, as is a smile in the final scene.

Not Here to be Loved also has the rare distinction of having a perfect ending. It’s perhaps (like the film) bittersweet, but there’s no chase to the altar; Jean-Claude doesn’t make some grand romantic gesture or prostrate himself and declare his love. Instead it’s quiet, inconclusive, but 100 times more articulate than the endings of most romantic films.

How Can You See It?
There is an excellent UK DVD from Artificial Eye which has a good transfer, decent subtitles and some solid interview based extras. A good package.

Next Week on WHYS
Celia (Ann Turner, 1988)

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