Film review: Anything for Her and The Necessities of Life

by Listener Archive / 24 April, 2010
The hero of Anything for Her is an ordinary man living a nightmare after his wife is imprisoned for murder.

The title of Fred Cavayé's taut, beautifully constructed thriller Pour Elle translates simply as "for her". In English-language markets, this has been amended to Anything for Her. The assessment of English-language audiences implicit in that little tweak is not flattering.

The title "For Her" has a slight Hallmark-card earnestness to it; appropriately, because the film is about a 40-something school teacher head-over-heels in love with his much younger wife. But the question of exactly what he might be willing to do for her is left wide open, and becomes pressing a few minutes into the film when we see the wife imprisoned - wrongly? - for murder.

"Anything for Her", on the other hand, is not a phrase interested in leaving questions open. Right from the get-go, it tells you to expect melodrama, excess and a ringside seat as a regular guy throws away the rule book and does whatever it takes to save the love of his life. The implied assumption is that English-language audiences won't front up to a subtitled thriller unless they're promised a rollercoaster ride.

There is, in fact, a rollercoaster ride to be had here, but a great deal of the drama lies in getting to it. Cavayé sets up Julien (Vincent Lindon), his school-teacher hero, as an ordinary man living a nightmare. The evidence that gets his wife, Lisa (Inglourious Basterds' Diane Kruger), sentenced to 20 years behind bars is circumstantial, but overwhelmingly incriminating.

No one else believes in her innocence. As the years pass and the appeals fail and their young son becomes more and more resentful of his mother's absence, Lisa begins to look like a suicide risk. So what can Julien do?

Lindon is wholly convincing as a decent, average man forced to face up to the fact that answering this question is going to be difficult. It won't be the easy wish-fulfilment exercise you might find in a Hollywood telling of this story. A Hollywood hero would narrow his eyes and mutter, "Anything for her", and a few car chases later the world would obediently get out of his way. Julien has to come up with the sort of plan that might actually work.

And he does. And inevitably, things go wrong. The process unfolds with the economy and pace of the best suspense thrillers, and delivers a wholly satisfying ending. I wouldn't be surprised if Holly­wood does end up remaking this film, but I'd be astonished to see a remake half as intelligent or gritty as the original.

ANYTHING FOR HER, directed by Fred Cavayé.

French-Canadian director Benoît Pilon's The Necessities of Life is a sweet, simple story with a pace so slow I initially expected it to become boring. Instead, it became more and more absorbing.

In 1952, Inuit hunter Tivii (Natar Ungalaaq) is diagnosed with tuberculosis and forced to leave his wife and children for treatment in Quebec. He speaks no French and no one in the sanatorium speaks his language. Completely isolated in an alien environment, Tivii loses his will to live until a sympathetic nurse arranges to have an orphaned Inuit boy transferred to his ward.

The gradual shifts in Tivii's mental state, the slow growth of his relationships with the boy, the nurse and the handful of patients who can be bothered trying to communicate with him are almost the whole of this film. Ungalaaq's expressive features make it entirely satisfying to watch.

The title has a nice complexity to it, because the Canadian doctors are entirely right that Tivii needs the help they force on him, but at the same time entirely wrong: their failure to understand him nearly kills him.

Tivii's own notion of "the necessities of life" is simpler: all he wants from the world is land, water, people to love and animals to hunt. The story's warm minimalism hints that this is not a philosophy to sneer at.

THE NECESSITIES OF LIFE, directed by Benoît Pilon.
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