An Impossible Love (3 stars)

An Impossible Love

Virginie Efira is marvellous in a quietly devastating relationship drama from French director Catherine Corsini

The title of Catherine Corsini's latest is one to wrestle with. Is this 'impossible love' a reference to the protagonist, Rachel, and her longing for Philippe, the good-for-nothing cad who gets her pregnant and absconds? Or is it the feelings experienced by Rachel and Philippe's daughter Chantal, desperate to connect with a father who refuses to legally recognise his child and only turns up on the doorstep sporadically?

There is actually a lot more to the father-daughter relationship, which spans a number of years and sees Chantal played by four actresses as she grows older (including Estelle Lescure as a teen and Savages front-woman Jehnny Beth as an adult). Based on the 2015 autobiographical novel by Christine Angot, who will be known to some for her co-scripting of Claire Denis' Let the Sunshine In, it's a distressing tale of physical and emotional abuse narrated dispassionately by Chantal, as she looks back at her mother's life.

Rachel is played, quite marvellously, by Belgian actress Virginie Efira (Elle), across the film's four decades – beginning in 1960 and culminating in the year 2000 (although the ageing make-up isn't entirely convincing). Assuming the role of Parisian translator Philippe is Niels Schneider (from Xavier Dolan's Heartbeats), who conveys a smarmy quality throughout, not least in the scene where he arrives to tell Rachel that he's now married but it shouldn't affect their casual get-togethers.

As the story skips over the years, revelations are unveiled (which aren't exactly difficult to guess) and the film concentrates on how Philippe's actions have impacted on Chantal. Following her 2015 lesbian romance Summertime, Corsini demonstrates sensitive handling of the material, even if the two-hours plus running time is never quite justified in a story that becomes increasingly disjointed. Nevertheless, between Corsini's direction and the production design and cinematography's subtle charms, An Impossible Love still manages to be an engrossing, quietly devastating drama.

Limited release from Fri 4 Jan.

An Impossible Love

  • 3 stars
  • 2018
  • France / Belgium
  • 2h 15min
  • Directed by: Catherine Corsini
  • Cast: Virginie Efira, Niels Schneider, Jehnny Beth
  • UK release: 12 October 2018

The story of Rachel (Efira) and her relationships with good-for-nothing Philippe (Schneider), and her daughter Chantal and her relationship with her absent father. By turns distressing and engrossing, it’s a remarkable tale of how one man’s actions affect the lives of two women.