Passion Simple (4 stars)

Passion Simple

Knotty French erotic drama featuring outstanding work from its leading lady Laetitia Dosch

The sublime Laetitia Dosch (Jeune Femme) is the most plausible of protagonists in this knotty erotic drama from Lebanese writer-director Danielle Arbid, who studied and subsequently settled in France. Adapting Annie Ernaux's novel, Arbid delves into female sexual desire with intoxicating abandon, capturing the all-consuming nature of an affair and getting stuck into an experience that's as humiliating as it is exciting and empowering.

Set in France, Passion Simple follows literature professor and single mother Hélène (Dosch) who falls for heavily tattooed Russian embassy security guard Aleksandr (Sergei Polunin from Red Sparrow and 2017's Murder on the Orient Express), who she admits to having nothing in common with beyond their powerful mutual desire. Keeping peripheral characters to a minimum, the film depicts a number of charged sexual encounters – arranged at the married Aleksandr's convenience – and how Aleksandr begins to dominate Hélène's thoughts. It draws an effective contrast between the respectable, buttoned-up front she shows to her students and the giddy, girlish and sometimes brazenly wanton woman she becomes in her lover's presence.

Arbid presents the many shades of this steamy and fairly soul-destroying tryst, from the affair providing a pleasant distraction for Hélène during supermarket trips, communicated in sly smiles, to it having a detrimental effect on her caring for her son (Lou-Teymour Thion, getting to do a lot of eye-rolling and pouting). 'Even feminists turn submissive once they're in love,' she confesses to a similarly romantically luckless pal (Caroline Ducey), and although we see her call Aleksandr out on his more controlling and obnoxious behaviour, it doesn't seem to put her off.

If Arbid has an appealingly interrogatory style, Dosch is an absolute master at communicating Hélène's wordless pleasure, turmoil and eventual desperation – as a character she is totally emotionally transparent. The musical choices are beautiful (Linda Vogel's cover of Bob Dylan's 'I Want You', The Flying Pickets' version of 'Only You', Leonard Cohen's 'The Stranger Song'), though they are probably a little thematically on the nose. Still, Arbid and her sensational leading lady give us an impressively nuanced picture of what the title ironically dubs a fairly straightforward attraction.

Available to watch on Curzon Home Cinema from Fri 5 Feb.

Passion Simple

  • 4 stars
  • 2020
  • France
  • 1h 39min
  • 18
  • Directed by: Danielle Arbid
  • Cast: Laetitia Dosch, Sergei Polunin, Caroline Ducey, Grégoire Colin, Slimane Dazi