The scent of a lover aids a geographically separated couple’s efforts to stay together in 7 Years, a debut from French filmmaker Jean-Pascal Hattu that exhibits a familiar trace of the Dardennes’ observational astringency. With a detached, watchful gaze, Hattu’s film charts the romantic triangle that blossoms between lonely Maïté (Valérie Donzelli), her incarcerated and demanding husband Vincent (Bruno Todeschini), and a pushy stranger named Jean (Cyril Troley) who, while coming on to Maïté outside the prison, claims to be visiting his locked-up brother. Maïté’s personal and professional life is propelled along by the suggestions of others, and her dutiful acceptance of external advice leads her to engage in a functional physical relationship with Jean that’s complicated by his admission that he is, in fact, a prison guard with close ties to Vincent. This revelation creates mild tension, though nothing like the psychosexual mess generated by his second bombshell (spoiler alert): that Vincent has actually commissioned Jean to screw Maïté and then report back about their intimacy—audio recordings of coitus included. Jean is both a sexual proxy and a conduit for Vincent, but his amorous feelings for Maïté remain genuine, resulting in a complex (and sometimes disorderly) treatise on love, passion, (co-)dependence, and need. Hattu occasionally underdramatizes 7 Years’ emotionally tangled scenario, such as with regard to Maïté’s relationship with the infatuated young boy (Pablo de La Torre) for whom she cares. Yet his reserved directorial approach brings genuineness to a range of seemingly minor but emotionally piercing incidents, from a sudden slap to the face to a private moment of self-gratification. If pesky narrative questions become increasingly frustrating, Hattu, to his credit, allows his austere, attentive camerawork and Donzelli’s soft (and yet painfully strained) face to fill in many of the gaps, all while refusing to work through his tense material with the type of cheesy melodramatic payoffs that any future Sundance or Hollywood-style remakes would surely include.
- 86 min
- Jean-Pascal Hattu
- Jean-Pascal Hattu
- Valérie Donzelli, Cyril Troley, Bruno Todeschini, Pablo de la Torre, Nadia Kaci
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