Rebecca Zlotowski’s sweet, sad film is a drama of grownup sadnesses, lost chances and last chances; a little lenient and soft-focus, maybe, although I loved the bittersweet closing-credits shot of its star Virginie Efira breezing through the streets of Paris in a spirit of philosophical acceptance to the chanson Les Eaux de Mars on the soundtrack.
Efira plays Rachel, a single woman in her late 30s who is a teacher, a demanding, rewarding job that she loves; she is thoroughly committed to her students and is at present trying to find a work-experience placement for a troubled kid that she believes in. Rachel is Jewish, and regularly attends a Paris synagogue with her sister and widower father – a synagogue protected by an armed soldier against antisemitic attacks. Rachel has had a chequered dating history; she is worried about her ticking biological clock and receives warnings from her elderly gynaecologist, a very funny and surreal acting cameo from the legendary documentary film-maker Frederick Wiseman.
But Rachel is at the moment secretly very excited about someone she has met at the guitar lessons she’s taking: this is Ali (Roschdy Zem), a handsome divorced guy sharing custody of his five-year-old daughter called Leila with his ex-wife (who is played by Chiara Mastroianni). Ali and Rachel begin a passionate relationship – amusingly, those guitar lessons are never mentioned ever again. But it is complicated by her relationship with Leila whom she adores, but who clearly needs some time to get used to her. Rachel is aware that she may never be able to get pregnant, so if Ali is to be the One, she has got to persuade Leila to think of her as her new mum. Yet Ali’s ex-partner is always on the scene.
Poor Rachel is aware that her relationship with Ali, however blissfully happy and fulfilled it appears to be, is always conditional. Ali could break up with her anytime he wants and take up with someone else, and maybe have more children. Rachel does not have that luxury, but can’t afford to put pressure on him for a commitment without risking exactly that breakup. So making Leila fall in love with her is what she has to do. And perhaps Ali will always favour Leila over her. It all has the makings of a very contemporary and painful love triangle.
There are tears for both children and adults, although I felt that Zlotowski never quite dramatises the lives of Zem and Mastroianni’s characters; they are a little two-dimensional compared with Rachel. But it is a gentle, heartfelt relationship drama about – and for – intelligent adults.