This is a story told through poetic realism. I discussed the form at some length when writing about Port of Shadows, but the short version is that it portrays the reality of the dredges of society with a dramatic, and often ridiculous, flair. I eat the style up. There’s just something beautiful and sad about it, which is a combination that so much of my favorite art tries to capture.
This is a really long film, with a lot going on, so summarizing it would be tricky. But, at its core, it’s the story of four different men who are all circling around the same woman. They all supposedly love her in their own way, and they all definitely desire her. The film plays their relationships off one another, as the various circles slowly intersect and create increasing complexity.
The woman, who goes by the alias Garance, is desirable because she’s supposedly the most beautiful woman they’ve ever seen. A beauty so overwhelming that is cannot be denied. Her beauty stems from her outward appearance to some extent, but more from her attitude towards life. She’s carefree in a way they find alluring, even as they want to control it in ways that would kill the very thing they profess to love.
They want to possess her, but they don’t want to actually know her. They are all completely uninterested in her as a person, they are purely interested in her as an object. None of them put any effort into actually trying to understand her. Even the “best” one, the mime Baptiste, is mostly coming from a place of pure obsession, rather than any actual human connection.
It’s something the film only touches on in broad strokes. I can’t tell if the film is aware of the banality of the men’s love, and is commenting archly on it, or not. But it was very much there for me. Garance isn’t even the woman’s real name, but rather an alias designed to create an idealized fiction for self-benefit.
Ultimately, Garance’s line that “love is simple” is true, in a sense. To love is simple. To make love work, to last, to grow, is most definitely not. That requires actual connection and effort. None of these people are capable of that, and so in the end they are all doomed to their fate.