Review: ‘Both Sides Of The Blade’

Juliette Binoche And Vincent Lindon Bring Bruising Intensity To Claire Denis' Uneven Melodrama

Nothing in a Claire Denis film is exactly as it seems. In her latest feature, a thorny, passionate love-triangle romance Both Sides of the Blade, the opening scenes find Sara and Jean (Juliette Binoche and Vincent Lindon) making out blissfully in the clear blue sea, not a cloud in the sun-kissed sky. For all of the midlife happiness their frolicking suggests, the score tells us something is amiss. It isn’t long before these two are having the kind of cold, dispassionate conversation of bored, unhappy people.

Both Sides of the Blade is a film that grips you with the potential of Binoche and Lindon together, two Denis favorites and among the best actors in the world. The soapy plot does its share of heavy lifting, as well, with Sara drooling over her ex, François (Grégoire Colin), who has returned to town, looking slick and mischievous on a motor cycle, no less. It’s a sticky situation because Jean, a bullish ex-rugby pro and former felon, was once close friends and business partners with Francois, and might be again.

Denis is prone to getting slippery when it comes to tone, and Both Sides of the Blade teeters between serious and corny melodrama. Binoche navigates this discordance beautifully, mind you, as Sara’s eyes practically google out of their sockets comically at the sight of Francois from afar. Meanwhile, Jean, an emotionally closed-off sort is loyal but dealing with his own drama as his teenaged biracial son from a previous relationship is becoming a bad seed.

Jean and Sara have the kind of stable relationship that can make a person restless and nostalgic for past excitement. Denis explores Sara’s discontent fully. She’s a completely fleshed-out person, all rough edges and inconsistencies, neither good or totally in the wrong. Watching her struggle with the bad choice she is definitely going to make is what makes Both Sides of the Blade fascinating. Once that choice is made, things are considerably less interesting. Also, the film’s occasional glimpses at the outside world’s various social issues, explored through Sara’s job as a radio show host, are unconvincing and feel like an attempt by Denis to attach some deeper meaning, when all she really needed was to trust in the bruising intensity of Binoche and Lindon.

Both Sides of the Blade opens in theaters on July 8th.

Travis Hopson has been reviewing movies before he even knew there was such a thing. Having grown up on a combination of bad '80s movies, pro wrestling, comic books, and hip-hop, Travis is uniquely positioned to geek out on just about everything under the sun. A vampire who walks during the day and refuses to sleep, Travis is the co-creator and lead writer for Punch Drunk Critics. He is also a contributor to Good Morning Washington, WBAL Morning News, and WETA Around Town. In the five minutes a day he's not working, Travis is also a voice actor, podcaster, and Twitch gamer. Travis is a voting member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and Late Night programmer for the Lakefront Film Festival.