Sheffield Doc/Fest film review: Mon Amour
Laurence Boyce | On 26, Nov 2020
Director: David Teboul
Cast: David Teboul
Watch Mon Amour online in the UK: DocFest 2020
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Following the loss of his lover, filmmakers David Teboul finds himself in a world of chaos and despair. Unable to process the feelings of grief and devastation, he retreats to one of the farthest reaches of the world – specifically, a village in Siberia – to ask the villagers to share their experiences of love. As they confess both the pleasures and pains that love has caused them, Teboul is able to reflect on his tempestuous relationship with his lover Frédéric, the pain that haunts him over Frédéric’s untimely death and the memories of the times that drew them together.
Teboul’s film is an extremely sparse and slow-paced piece of work that is a treatise not only on the nature and complexity of love but also on the power of memory and remembrance that is inspired by some classics of cinema, including Alan Resnais’ legendary Hiroshima Mon Amour, from which Teboul takes his film’s title. Teboul intersperses interviews with the village inhabitants with long monologues of his own as their stories are juxtaposed with his own memories of the man he loved and lost.
Old couples talk of their first experiences of love – whether it be with their partner or love amongst their family – and how their feelings and experiences were changed by a lifetime of hardships. A woman keeps going back to her husband despite his drunkenness and abuse. Others remember those initial moments of excitement and joy, recalling the faces that have now been ravaged by the winds of time. But while there’s a certain amount of resignation to the fact that their lives may not have turned out to be what they expect, those of the younger generation who are interviewed are beginning to realise that the promises of youth may go unfulfilled. One of the unifying things that people have is that they can never really define what it is that has sparked their feelings of love. While there are elements of the physical in all their recollections, there’s also an indefinable “something” that they can’t define. For all the harsh reality of life there is still a sense of the magical.
Faced with these recollections, Teboul decides to go beyond his pain and examine his own thoughts and memories. His voice-over monologues reveal a dysfunctional relationship with Frédéric who himself was becoming engulfed by a drug habit. While he begins to remember a man whose own behaviours was complex and manipulative, he also reflects on those indefinable moments ripe with excitement, pleasure and contentment.
Teboul makes use of long takes, with slow languid shots of icy tundras and static moments of banal village life. Alongside some judicious use of classical music (by such composers as Arvo Pärt) during it’s nearly three hour run time, the film takes on a rhythm of serene beauty as the chaotic jagged edge of love is slowed down by the both the physical and cinematic act of remembering.
The film does sometimes seem to drift into territories which could feel exploitative. With Teboul remembering an interview with “the Red-Headed Girl” – not even bothering to confer her with a name – or one particularly harrowing moment of a man despairing over the death of a sibling and the following shots which seem to drift into the gratuitous, there is sometimes an air that the villagers are only there to help Teboul through his grief rather than as people in their own right.
Yet with a final moment of declared love between an elderly couple – the closest thing that Mon Amour has to a triumphalist moment – the film is ultimately a hopeful and empowering piece of work in which sadness and pain can also be confronted and, if not entirely eliminated, dealt with so that life can ultimately move forward.
Mon Amour is available to rent for £4 on Sheffield Doc/Fest Selects, or as part of a £12 pass for the Ghosts & Apparitions collection, until 11.59pm on 26th November 2020.