If You Don’t, I Will occasionally displays an impressive feel for how people, stranded in a romance gone cold, start to pick at one another. Pierre (Mathieu Amalric) and Pomme (Emmanuelle Devos) make for a chic, attractive French couple, and, at first, it appears that their mutual sniping is either an ironic sign of affectation or the symptom of a rut, though each of their skirmishes have a tellingly chillier punchline than the jousting would initially prime one to expect. Pierre grows possessive over Pomme at an art opening, and their banter ends with him attempting to abandon her at a bus stop. Later, he talks to Pomme briefly while she’s showering, and, though we clearly understand that she expects him to climb into the stall with her, he brutally abbreviates the conversation in an act of willful obliviousness. Most remarkable of all is a scene in which an encounter with an elderly hitchhiker sends the couple into a surprising tailspin.
Time and again, director Sophie Fillières wisely plays against the audience’s expectations of the romantic-dramedy genre by allowing Pierre and Pomme’s altercations to be authentically painful rather than cute. Though our sympathies initially favor Pomme for the open, less complicated universality of her sense of heartbreak, we gradually come to see that Pierre’s callousness masks a similar kind of baffled longing. Amalric, in a tricky performance, allows us to understand that Pierre attacks out of a feeling of continual emotional blockage that’s really confusion. The actors play off one another beautifully, but If You Don’t, I Will bottoms out just as it’s getting warmed up.
The first act is primarily reliant on the verbal rhythms of the stars, but the remainder of the film is structured as a series of one-person set pieces that primarily follow Pomme after she rashly decides to live in the woods for a while so as to detox from Pierre’s emotional poison. The premise, clearly, is that Pomme is trying to get in touch with herself and perhaps discover a bit of transcendent solace in nature, but Fillières displays no talent, or interest, in dramatizing the primal pull of the outdoors, particularly for comfy, disgruntled city-dwellers. The images are framed in such a myopic, indifferent, limiting manner (we can often only see a few feet away from Pomme in any direction) that one wonders if the staging is intended to hide a clumsy set. There’s no majesty in Fillières’s pointing and shooting; a gorgeous mountain vista apparently means no more to her than litter casually discarded on a woodland trail.
This formal uncertainty fosters an authorial tunnel vision that encourages one to eventually resent the characters. All this beauty around Pierre and Pomme, and neither of them can see anything outside of their petty, eventually wearying bickering. That’s arguably, and charitably, the point of If You Don’t, I Will. There’s no kind of human more melodramatically self-absorbed than one in the flush of new love, or in the despair of its eventual erosion, but even portraits of the most quotidian of domestic problems require an element of symbolic wryness, a suggestion of the vastness of the world around us. (Consider, for instance, Ikiru sitting on that swing.) But this film leaves you wondering who’s more superficial: the protagonists or their creator.