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If You Don't, I Will
If You Don't, I Will is a well-made movie that struggles to find an emotional foothold with the audience. Writer/director Sophie Fillieres clearly has ideas about what aspects of married life she hopes to explore, and on an objective level, she's at least a little successful in her desire to probe those ideas and emotional threads, but her examination is clinical and detached. The experience of viewing If is very much like watching a couple fight for an hour and 40 minutes which quickly grows tedious. Perhaps it's that we don't know enough about Pomme or Pierre; Fillieres is one of those writers who insists on obscuring the characters so that we can learn about them as the movie rolls on. At times, the couple come off more like plot devices than people, stranding the viewer with no reason to invest in or like either of them, even if they relate.
In terms of the character balance, the movie isn't truly about both Pomme and Pierre, but generally approaches things from Pomme's perspective. There's nothing wrong with that, but there's a sense that Fillieres thinks she's making a more even-handed movie than she actually is, or that we're supposed to understand where both parties are coming from. Both of Fillieres' lead actors are excellent, but there is a sense that Amalric has a little less to do, his big eyes shifting from anger to sadness. After an opening stretch where neither character is particularly pleasant, Pomme and Pierre's emotional journeys branch off from one another, and Pomme's self-discovery feels a bit more fleshed out, while Pierre's creates only a kind of pitiable sympathy. To be clear: I'm not advocating that a film by a female writer / director is shafting the male perspective, just that Fillieres comes off as if she's trying to play both sides for no reason. The movie would probably be better served with less scenes of Pierre's moping misery, and more of Pomme's developing journey, because she's clearly more invested in it.
This problem bleeds into the pacing of the movie as well. The film takes a long time to get to what was pitched as the plot (Pomme staying alone in the woods), and meanders afterward. The film's split attention span emphasizes the somewhat arbitrary nature of Pomme's escape from her life and how she regains her sense of self (slipping into town and pretending to be a musician, rescuing a young deer from the forest crevice she's sleeping in, visiting her son's dorm room only to find his girlfriend playing Scrabble alone). There's no blueprint for what it is Pomme needs to feel better about things, but once again, the need to cut back to Pierre for less-interesting sequences of him making up excuses for his absent wife and snapping at people just interrupts the flow of this other, more rewarding story.
Fillieres has some evocative ideas in the film in the form, moments that metaphorically tie into the relationship. At one point, Pomme returns to her office, where she has taken a leave of absence in order to deal with the tumor that turned out to be benign. While she's there, she peeks into a desk drawer and finds a package full of food crawling with ants, which she reseals and puts back in the drawer instead of throwing it away. At another point, she and Pierre find the last bit of a bottle of wine in a cupboard. To get it cold, Pierre places it in a drawer in the freezer designed to freeze something almost instantly, but leaves it in too long, and the glass breaks. Pulling a few of the icy chunks out of the drawer, he warns her to avoid the glass shards as they suck on the frozen wine. These kinds of moments are indicative of the film as a whole: both have something to say about the relationship at the heart of the film, and both of them are clinical, designed to be observed intellectually, and from a distance.
Film Movement has recently freed themselves of their classic, Criterion-style template artwork, giving the full space on the front cover to the film's key art. In this case, we have Amalric and Devos sitting on a mountaintop in the middle of the forest, with the title spelled out in big orange lettering. The single-disc release comes in a transparent Blu-ray case with an image of Amalric and Devos inside a cave on the reverse of the sleeve, and there is a booklet advertising other Film Movement releases.
The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and featuring a French Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, If You Don't, I Will generally looks and sounds just fine on DVD. The film features natural colors, accentuated by the striking colors of the hiking clothes that Amalric and Devos wear, as well as the lush greens of the forest that surround them. Detail is generally pretty good, although some aliasing can be seen in more complex shots of the tree branches stretching off into the distance. Some minor noise can be spotted in some of the film's darker scenes but banding does not appear to be a problem. Sound-wise, the movie is almost entirely dialogue based, and even at that there are long stretches of Davos in the woods where she says very little, so most of that surround sound is used to create the ambiance of the outdoors (it does a decent job, if nothing remarkable). English subtitles are provided.
As with all Film Movement discs, the primary extra is a short film. In this case, the second "feature presentation" is Driving Lessons (13:57), a 2012 short by Elodie Lelu about a teenager (Pauline Etienne) who discovers she's pregnant right before she takes her driving test, with grandma (Bella Wajnberg) in the backseat, along for the ride. In just under 14 minutes, this piece managed to generate more emotional investment than all of If You Don't, I Will, which I'd call a success.
That said, this is one of the few Film Movement discs with bonus features pertaining to the film itself, in the form of interviews with Amalric (4:39), Devos (10:56), and Fillieres (13:18). These are all surprisingly loose and seemingly honest discussions about what the actors saw in the piece and what Fillieres was trying to accomplish. Each speaks with an artfulness about the movie which makes me wish I saw what they saw in it.
The disc rounds out with text bios of the same three principal players. Trailers for , , , , and play before the main menu and are accessible from the special features menu. An original theatrical trailer for If You Don't, I Will is also included.
If You Don't, I Will keeps the audience at arm's length in an attempt to remain objective, but the fleeting moments where it works all occur when Fillieres gives in to the desire to get closer to Pomme. Sadly, those moments are few and far between. Skip it.
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