Published May 22, 2015For her feature directorial debut, Swiss director Claudia Lorenz has tackled what could be described as a Brokeback Mountain narrative told from the perspective of Michelle Williams. It's a very static, matter-of-fact drama that's almost clinical in its approach to the subject, functionally capturing each general aspect of the situation without ever really engaging or exploring the emotional component. This is particularly odd considering that Alice (Ursina Lardi), a married mother of three, ultimately goes through turmoil when her husband, Frank (Dominique Jean), announces that he's in love with another man.
This announcement comes after Alice finds gay porn in the browsing history of their home computer. Frank doesn't deny that the links are his and initially cites his interest as a sexual curiosity. Alice, though visibly uncomfortable, doesn't react in a cinematically conventional way. She opens up a dialogue about the subject and asks if Frank would like to experiment with threesomes. Ostensibly, she tries to ensure that her husband's sexual desires are addressed while acknowledging her own.
Unfortunately, What's Between Us handles these situations in a very superficial capacity. This isn't to say that Lorenz's depth of consideration and understanding of the subject is superficial at all — on the contrary, she and Ursina Lardi clearly analyzed this character and this situation with great acuity. It's just that Lorenz's style includes little to no embellishment. It's very cold, and every scene serves a very specific purpose. While this strategy can work with movies that specifically aim to detach the viewer to force them into a position of academic assessment, the goal here is to create some sort of empathy and emotional component while detailing the many failed efforts and frustrations of a woman trying to hold onto a marriage that's rapidly falling apart.
Despite the broad strokes in which the story is told, wherein each scene presents the subject up front in frank conversation, Lardi does commit herself to the role. She remains strong in the face of a devastating situation, mostly subduing emotional outburst while refusing to allow herself to be victimized by the situation. Contrarily, Jean's portrayal of Frank is pretty bland.
This stems mainly from Lorenz's lack of interest in portraying his perspective on the situation. His character is his actions, which suggests that the casting of a very sickly looking, effeminate man was intentional. Lorenz appears to be suggesting that Alice has been ignoring something that is abundantly clear to everyone else for years.
The eventual outcome, even in its seeming lack of completion, does reinforce a feminine dialogue. This is Alice's story; one that refuses to categorize or limit its protagonist to a wife or mother archetype. In this, What's Between Us excels and proves vital. It's just unfortunate that there's virtually no tone or subtlety to how the actual storytelling unfolds, which leads to a basic disconnect and inability to emotionally invest in a story that could have easily lent itself to that. (Independent)