Cultural Bulletin
Cultural Bulletin is a quarterly magazine that provides an international view of creative work. We look to film, music, design and art as signifiers of our cultural moment.

IN REVIEW: An Impossible Love

Director: Catherine Corsini


In this intensely powerful and brilliantly acted film (based on the book of the same name written by Christine Angot) we are shown how the promise of a whirlwind love affair can descend into life altering toxicity. Director Catherine Corsini also asks us to consider the complexities of a broken family and, towards the end, much darker and more disturbing themes.

It begins in Châteauroux, central France, with the heady haze of a summer romance. Rachel (Virginie Efira), who at 26 has ‘capped St. Catherine’ (a term used in the ‘50s for unmarried women who have turned 25), is living with her mother and sister after a failed engagement. A very different time this was; the expectation of family and marriage were a constant force. It’s no wonder, then, that when the handsome and enigmatic Philippe (Niels Schneider) begins making eyes at her across her work canteen, she falls for him - hard.

As the two spend more time together, Rachel sees that Philippe is intelligent and exciting – he speaks multiple languages, travels and quotes Nietzsche. She is seduced and charmed. There is, however, a moment where a brief and cutting comment is made. It is a warning - a fluttering red flag - and a break from his usually suave demeanour. She silently accepts it, worried that speaking out will contort their growing relationship.

These moments become painfully more frequent – we see Philippe state he will never marry (although, he might have considered it if she ‘were rich’). We see him make anti-Semitic comments about her Jewish father. For the viewer, his unctuous nature quickly becomes tiresome. For Rachel, though, she is in love. And soon, just before he is to return home to Paris, she falls pregnant. From this point on the actions of Philippe are critical to the happiness of all three: mother, father and now, daughter Chantal.

The emotional depth of the film is increased because Corsini allows the narration to come from Chantal. And, although we are taken through the film from the child’s view of it all, it is Rachel who we are most invested in. Nor is it an understatement to say that Virginie Efira is exceptional. She manages to display both hope and pain: hope that her daughter will know a father and pain as that very man steadily goes to work on enervating her. An impossible love.

The look of the film is a real strength. Cinematographer Jeanne Lapoirie paints the couple’s first summer in such a way that it oozes nostalgia and a deep sense of connection – it is a vital step in allowing us to understand why Rachel holds onto the feelings she has towards Philippe. The costumes are also tailored exquisitely - helping to acutely recreate each of five decades that the film moves through.

It’s a shame that the trailer to An Impossible Love gives too much away – don’t watch it first. It’s best to go into the rest of the drama not knowing how it may play out. What results is a challenging and heart-breaking work that showcases highly memorable performances. TS