Editor’s Note: The following review is part of our coverage of TIFF’s fall film series Love Exists: The Films of Maurice Pialat. For more information, visit tiff.net and follow TIFF on Twitter at @TIFF_NET.
At the end of We Won’t Grow Old Together, Maurice Pialat’s second feature film, all the leading players have said a kind of goodbye to one another. Not the kind of farewell that marks the beginning of a long absence, but rather the kind we’ve become used to during the film: lead actor Jean Yanne as Jean, a filmmaker, doesn’t let those around him venture too far away, often following or returning to a meeting site not long after departing. Whether a few seconds, a few hours, or maybe a day or two, Jean always returns, unannounced, wondering why no one cares enough about him to call or send a letter (even after they promise to send one).
Even if the barbed characters are a bit much for your liking, there’s a lot to love about the economical method of the filmmaking shown . . .
Jean is a star, with a carefully assembled group of (mostly female) individuals orbiting around him, although his likeness is perhaps more accurately described as a black hole, sucking in those he needs with the gravity of his vicious charms. Short-tempered, brutal, and prone to mood swings, Jean alternately shows his affections through delicate signs of genuine fondness with intense bursts of anger. It’s engaging, enraging, and altogether tiresome as time goes on. Though his wife Francois (Macha Meril) has just returned from a trip to Russia, the two share a marriage in name only. Their only interactions depict a couple beyond any form of reconciliation. Meanwhile, Jean spends most of his time courting Catherine (Marlene Jobert), a younger woman whose six-year relationship with Jean has been equal parts nostalgic despair and repeated heartbreak.
It’s hard to fall head over heels for We Won’t Grow Old Together, a film whose characters and plot are just as unsentimental and cold as the title would imply.
Jean’s development throughout the picture is not uninteresting, and certainly supplies much of the organic energy when it comes to the interactions. His ability to shrink to the size and temperament of a wounded puppy when relationships are nearing their bitter end (which happens every several minutes, it seems) is comedic at first. However, when Jean returns to the interaction with the ferocity of a bull, much of the comedy is lost in the verbal, physical, and indeed mental abuse he presses on those around him, primarily Catherine. This, however, makes Catherine’s developing animosity towards Jean throughout the film all the more interesting and fulfilling, even if her strength is often torn down in an instant. Jobert is required to act on a wide spectrum, and without her varied (yet always a bit jolted) performance, Yanne’s turn as Jean wouldn’t have quite as much punch to give (Yanne took home the Best Actor prize for the film at Cannes in 1972).
Even if the barbed characters are a bit much for your liking, there’s a lot to love about the economical method of the filmmaking shown in We Won’t Grow Old Together. The intimate feeling of all the conversations is emphasized by a noticeable lack of establishing shots. Their omission certainly aids in Pialat’s characteristic use of temporal jumps, but combined with very few midrange shots of the conversations on screen, the film is much more about the faces and expressions worn by the various characters. Jean and Catherine are more often than not centered in the frame, with the shot reverse shot sequencing allowing little by way of movement (but the movement that sometimes ensues is always important and intense).
It’s hard to fall head over heels for We Won’t Grow Old Together, a film whose characters and plot are just as unsentimental and cold as the title would imply. Yet between the barbs and shoves lies a script that is genuine and candid, aided by a personal style of photographing that always makes the audience feel like the fly on the wall they want to be. Pialat’s strong voice elevates what could otherwise be routine material, even if this does make We Won’t Grow Old Together a sharp and unrelenting view of a fool.
Pialat’s strong voice elevates what could otherwise be routine material, even if this does make We Won’t Grow Old Together a sharp and unrelenting view of a fool.