A French film, with English subtitles. Set on the cusp of the swinging sixties, it begins as a coming-of-age drama. We are told in voice-over by Chantal (Estelle Lescure and the older Chantal played by Jehnny Beth) how her mother, beautiful, young Rachel (Virginie Efira) meets Philippe (Niels Schneider) at a local dance. He’s down from Paris to sub-rural hicksville and works as a translator on the American army base. Rachel’s friend teases Phillipe and asks him to translate a phrase into Spanish, into Italian, and even Chinese. Phillipe obliges her, but it’s Rachel he’s after.
She’s an office worker and admits the boss hates her and demoted her after he tried to have an affair with her. Philippe waits for her to finish every night. They make love, or have sex, whenever and wherever they can. Rachel is in love. Philippe doesn’t believe in love. He gets her to read Nietzsche. Dazzles her with notions of the Übermensch, Beyond Man, the philosophy adopted by Nazis apologists. Philippe tells her he doesn’t believe in marriage and will never marry. He’s above such notions. And Rachel, with her lower-class Jewish origins, should be above such things too. As a parting gift, Rachel lets him cum inside her, rather than on her stomach as they agreed.
Inevitably, Rachel gets pregnant and gives birth to a girl, Chantal (our narrator whose story this nominally is). Chantal is registered as a bastard, with father unknown on the birth certificate. Rachel begins a crusade to get Philippe to legally acknowledge Chantal as his daughter. Perhaps even be something of a father to her?
Years pass. Rachel ages and Chantal grows from being a baby to a young girl. Philippe, like Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray looks and sounds much the same. He agrees to be named as father but then changes his mind. They make love or have sex, again and again. It suits him, and he tries to convince her that’s what they agreed to. He’ll never marry. And she’ll going on working in the same old office and living with her mother, waiting for him, hoping to rekindle that great passion in her life.
The lies we tell ourselves are the most difficult to unravel. Her life is on hold, waiting. The older Chantal narrates in voice over the changes that come in their relationship and hers with her father. Blink and you’ll miss it, when Chantal tells the viewer when it started. A smooth transition. Intention and desire unpicked in the movement towards the denouement. Elegantly done.