One of the more well-known stereotypes about French cinema tends to usually relate to how romantic the French are. Parisian filmmakers romanticise everything. From the simplest forms of dating and connectivity, French cinema wouldn’t be the way it is today without the great help of a few too many hopeless romantics. Taking a far more intriguing and critical turn on this trend, Danielle Arbid’s Simple Passion presents a slight commentary on how the most loving and sincere relationships can lead to life-altering toxicity. Presented with a muted colour palette and plenty of toe-tapping needle-drops, the end product is an admirable surface level romance that never shies away from presenting various stimulating and sensual scenes of passionate coitus.
To put it bluntly, Simple Passion is a recklessly horny film. Just estimating on hand, around ten percent of the entire runtime is consumed by lavish takes of realistically simulated copulation. But that isn’t to say that these scenes are pointless. On the contrary, these vital ten minutes provide insight on the crumbling and emerging psychological abuse between Hélène and Alexandre. The tears, sweat, and even the exact duration of these individually scattered sex scenes help the audience connect the dots on the progression of their relationship. Actions will always speak louder than words, and time is ultimately the most essential tool for Arbid — whenever she wants to create or break a sense of comfortability within the frame.
Ironically enough, outside of being a film about a tumultuous love affair, there’s not all that much emotional complexity within Simple Passion. Undeniably well-intentioned, the film’s narrative lacks a certain amount of stakes and investment within Hélène’s journey of self-actualisation. On a directional scale, Arbid’s strange fascination with sudden gazes and seductive touches amplifies the connection between the couple. On a written scale, the visuals are simply not enough to provide insight or further feminist commentary on the subject of obsessive, compulsive relationships. With the exception of a slightly preachy voice-over monologue during the final scene of the film, Simple Passion lacks a punch. Perhaps a potential recut of a more condescended version of this film could have brought forward a more accessible, relatable, and essential audience forward.
Far from emulating a derivative soft-core or even a redundant roman-porno joint, Simple Passion is an admirable work of erotic fiction. Perfectly serviceable as a reflective film on toxicity and manic infatuation, Arbid’s film is most importantly a mature reminder for those who are currently craving normalcy. Especially in a quarantine state, Simple Passion is surprisingly topical in how it handles its subject matter of obsession. It’s important to not fantasise over the things we abundantly cherish, in order to continue and live on our healthy lives. And in the break of dusk, there will always be another dawn to further self-actualise ourselves as fully realised individuals.
Dir: Danielle Arbid
Scr: Danielle Arbid
Cast: Laetitia Dosch, Sergei Polunin, Grégoire Colin, Caroline Ducey
DP: Pascale Granel
Runtime: 98 mins
Curzon Home Cinema will release Simple Passion on February 5th, 2021