• Golden Globe Awards

Simple Passion (France)

An erotic drama that plumbs the psyche of someone infatuated with an unavailable partner, director Danielle Arbid’s Simple Passion was slated to make its world premiere at Cannes in 2020 before the global pandemic scuttled plans for that festival. Instead, the movie bowed at the Toronto International Film Festival later in the year, before enjoying a slate of complementary festival presentations in San Sebastian, Moscow, Busan, and elsewhere, followed by its theatrical release this year.
Based on a bestselling 1991 semi-autobiographical novel by Annie Ernaux, the film centers on Hélène (Laetitia Dosch), a Paris professor, divorcee, and single mother who finds herself constantly yo-yo-ing between the charged dopamine highs and emotional lows of a graphic affair with an icily removed young married Russian diplomat, Alexandre (ballet dancer turned actor Sergei Polunin).
Stories of this type, of illicit and unbalanced romance, are of course a familiar cinematic genre unto themselves. But Lebanese-born filmmaker Arbid, working together with cinematographer Pascale Granel, who shoots the movie and its graphic love scenes in crisp and unsentimental digital format, brings a distinctly female gaze to the material that helps distinguish it from its baser brethren.
Arbid connected to the source material deeply upon first reading it more than a decade ago, buying copies of the book to give to friends. In various interviews, she mentioned being intrigued by its study of contrasts and opposites and thought it could be a way to explore concepts of modern feminism and physical desire through the practice of willful submission to a relationship that, intellectually, one knows to be less than fully fulfilling.
But Arbid didn’t decide to seek to adapt it until 2014 when she entered a dialogue about the film rights with Ernaux, who asked to see her first two features, A Lost Man and Into the Battlefields. Blown away, Ernaux gave her blessing, paving the way for Arbid’s complex take on Simple Passion.