Persécution (2009)
aka: Persecution
A film directed by Patrice Chéreau

Genre: Drama / Romance

Review published:


Persécution photo
Daniel, 35, is haunted by a stranger who regularly breaks into his house and spies on him. Who is this stranger?  Why is he so obsessed with Daniel?  One day, the stranger, a seemingly harmless middle-aged man, confronts Daniel and tells him that he is the man of his life. Confused, shocked, Daniel reacts violently and chases the stranger away. Although Daniel lives alone, he has a girlfriend, Sonia, whom he visits a few times each week. He persecutes Sonia but he worships her, and yet she never gives him the attention that he demands. Sonia appears to be more interested in her work than in pursuing a relationship with him. Daniel is soon caught up in a maelstrom of amorous passion that is far from the idyllic romance he craves...
© 2012

Film Review

Patrice Chéreau's latest exploration of love and desire portrays these powerful human impulses in such a brutal and perverse manner that they resemble symptoms of a cruel psychological illness rather than qualities that ennoble and enrich the spirit. In a similar vein to the director's previous Intimacy (2001), the film revolves around three characters who are mutually attacted and repelled by a violent need for physical love that is marred by an inability (or unwillingness) to make any kind of real emotional connection. The disconnect between the need to receive love and the ability to give it is one of the dominant themes in Chéreau's oeuvre and is most noticeable in this, his most personal film to date.
Persécution owes much of its visceral intensity to the contributions of its three lead actors - Romain Duris, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Jean-Hugues Anglade - who each convincingly portrays a complex individual who is, to a greater or lesser extent, tortured by conflicting passions. Each of their characters is, through his or her compulsive need for love and attention, both a victim and a persecutor. Anglade's character is referred to as Le fou, the Madman, yet his seemingly irrational interest in Duris is merely a reflection of Duris's own obsessive desire to fully possess Gainsbourg, who is too busy being the modern career girl to commit to a long-term relationship. There is no place for tenderness in this sordid depiction of unattainable love. The characters are propelled by an uncontrollable bestial yearning for the flesh, and their attempts to articulate and rationalise their feelings only make this all the more apparent.

Persécution has echoes of Chéreau's early film L'Homme blessé (1983), which is an equally sombre portrayal of the mystery of human desire. This film - which also featured Anglade playing a man tormented by overwhelming homosexual yearnings - is a more potent evocation of the destructive power of desire, although the characters are perhaps less well developed and less credible than those we find in Persécution. With its stark mise-en-scène and raw emotional realism, this later film is a more eloquent and brutally honest expression of the most fundamental paradox of human experience - the impossibility for human beings ever to fully satisfy, in both a physical and spiritual sense, that unremitting amorous craving. Once again, Patrice Chéreau offers a portrait of desire that is so authentic and so morbidly uncompromising that it is almost too painful to watch, yet its dark poetry makes it strangely irresistible.

© James Travers 2010

The above article was written for and should not be reproduced in any medium without the author's permission.

Other recommended drama/romance films of the 2000s from France include the following: Joe Wright's Atonement (2007), Olivier Masset-Depasse's Cages (2008), Jean-Marc Moutout's La Fabrique des sentiments (2008), Jacques Rivette's Ne touchez pas la hache (2007) and Sébastien Lifshitz's Presque rien (2000).

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