Socialist Worker

Honest and all-too-possible story of abusive relationship

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2635

Phillipe seems charming—but his appearence hides his abusive behaviour

Phillipe seems charming—but his appearence hides his abusive behaviour


Go and see An Impossible Love but be prepared to be upset. Repeatedly. This is often a hard film to watch.

The advertising says it’s about a mother and daughter trying to ­preserve their relationship and love for one another in the face of a “manipulative” father.

This is true but it doesn’t tell you the half of it.

The film, based on a novel by Christine Angot, isn’t about gratuitous violence.

Instead, the horror it conjures up is more creepy and insidious.

It starts by introducing Rachel, who is said to be getting a bit old to be unmarried—at the grand age of 25!

But then again this is a provincial French town, Chateauroux, in 1958.

Rachel, a typist with quite a boring life, is very quickly swept off her feet when she meets Phillipe, the rich son of Parisian doctors.

He seems charming and attractive when we first meet him, taking Rachel on dates, complimenting her and talking about ideas.

Unreliable

It seems that he has brought some colour into her world.

But he ends up being an unreliable and disruptive person in her life, eventually causing her decades of pain.

There are warning signs from the start about Phillipe’s behaviour.

But I wasn’t prepared for just how horrendous that behaviour would become, and I don’t think many ­viewers will be either.

This is the strength of the film. Narrated by Rachel and Phillipe’s daughter Chantal, it’s brilliant at getting across how abuse works, and how it is hidden. There are hints at what is going on, but at the same time the truth is obscured.

The effect is that the viewer can be nearly as much in the dark as one of the main characters is.

And then feel stupid for not seeing it all along.

The film shows how it can be that even those closest to a victim can be completely oblivious to their suffering.

It shows why people often don’t speak up or seem to want to be with their abuser.

It is also very down to earth with how it portrays the fallout of living in a dysfunctional family.

Things are messy and people can make progress in their lives only to fall back again. They don’t always act in rational ways or make logical choices.

This is a hard film but it’s not altogether bleak. It shows people surviving, pulling together and recovering from terrible experiences.

It shows that life goes on.

An Impossible Love is on limited release from 4 January

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