Posted in: Film Reviews

Review: L’Amour viole

[Originally published in Movietone News 66-67, March 1981]

The Seattle exhibitor that gave a one-week run to Yannick Bellon’s film about a rape victim and the emotional and sociopolitical aftermath of the crime advertised the picture under its French title, L’Amour violé, admirably seeking to avoid the sensationalistic come-on of the U.S. distributor’s banner translation, Rape of Love. As it happened, local reviewers right down the line restored the U.S. title in their articles and indeed in their headlines, and went on to bracket any discussion of the film’s merits within their own various editorials on rape as a social issue. Myself, I felt little inclination to go see some female director’s tract movie on the rape question, and almost let the film get away from me. Almost but, happily, not quite. For L’Amour violé provided to be no tract, feminist or otherwise; even better, it turned out to be a damn good film in the ways that count with every movie, whether freighted with social import or not. And I found that the exhibitor (Seven Gables Theatres) was not only discreet but also precise in hewing to L’Amour violé as the title: “rape of love” ever so slightly distorts the emphasis of “love raped” and steers us away from the delicacy of Bellon’s subject and concerns.

Nicole, a strikingly attractive nurse (neither “handsome” nor “beautiful” seems quite juste as adjective for the actress, Nathalie Nell—she has the best of both qualities), is accosted on a country lane by four macho types, dragged off her bike and into their van, taken to a remote tumbledown shack, and polymorphously ill-used. Time passes. She lives with the memory for a while, then steels herself to take legal action against the men. The pressures proliferate: her soldier fiancé would gladly pound the villains into the ground, but feels his masculine self-image threatened by the prospect of making the rape incident public; liberated but nevertheless realistically minded friends and counselors warn her what she’ll be up against in the way of community attitudes toward rape victims; wives and parents of the perpetrators see their way of life jeopardized by bringing these Gallic good ol’ boys to trial; and so forth.

Even before the crime, Bellon has carefully nudged us toward the fact that her society, its culture and codes, the conditioning of its children, all help shape the casual inevitability of this genre of offense—and mostly done so without arousing an overt sense of casemaking. She also supplies eloquent, persuasive evidence of healthy alternatives to such sexist determinism, in the relationship of a funky rural vet and his wife, and in Nicole’s own professional rapport with an attractive male physician at the clinic where she works. This is all nicely managed, and throughout one is collaterally reassured of Bellon’s sociopolitical integrity by the quiet confidence and precision of the film’s visual and editorial rhythms. What most decisively won my respect and gratitude was her cinematic comprehension of space: the rural town nestled amid hills and verdure, a landscape to which the characters deliver themselves again and again for a restoration of serenity and perspective; the ambiguity of the topographical and architectural forms to which the film is so attentive (an Ozu-like shot of a mountainside framed by well-groomed apartment blocks suggesting both transcendent beauty and the structures of societal ideas that cry out for breaking down and reordering); above all, Bellon’s sharp feel for the political, emotional, and psychological charging of the personal space surrounding her characters.

It goes beyond truism or trendiness to say that Nicole’s space has been violated here—and not merely Nicole’s private space, but the space that frames, and testifies to, and ultimately, in film, constitutes her relatedness to home, friends, lover. Space, Bellon makes us recognize, is love; and through her artistry she suggests the possibility of l’amour, once violé, being healed. Nicole’s fiancé deserts her when she moves to bring her assailants before the law, but reexamines his motives and ultimately returns to share her ordeal. The court has retired to the isolated site of the rape, for a reenactment. Up the road, a policeman detains Jacques and will not permit him to drive on toward the scene. He leaves his car at the roadside and makes his way through the woods, unwittingly rehearsing Nicole’s own movements as she attempted to flee her captors. He arrives upon the scene just as Nicole has effectively won her case; they stand together quietly as the defendants are led away beyond them, slightly out of focus, already receding into the background of a mended life—two mended lives.

© 1981 Richard T. Jameson

Screenplay and direction: Yannick Bellon. Cinematography: Georges Barsky, Pierre-William Glenn.
The players: Nathalie Nell, Alain Foures, Michele Simonnet, Pierre Arditi, Tatiana Moukhine.

A pdf of the original issue can be found here.