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'Both Sides of the Blade' continues even after it's over

Vincent Lindon as “Jean” and Juliette Binoche as “Sara” in Claire Denis’ BOTH SIDES OF THE BLADE.
Courtesy of Curiosa Films
An IFC Films release
Vincent Lindon as “Jean” and Juliette Binoche as “Sara” in Claire Denis’ BOTH SIDES OF THE BLADE.

Something that’s important to know when you watch a movie by Claire Denis is that she doesn’t always give us all the information. We don’t always know why a character does something, we aren’t necessarily told how we got from there to here. It can be confusing or even frustrating in the moment, but it’s also an important feature of her style, and it can have astonishing results when it’s all said and done.

In Both Sides of the Blade, she turns to an actor she’s developed a near-perfect partnership with, Juliette Binoche, who stars alongside another Denis alum, Vincent Lindon. The two live together in Paris where she hosts a radio show. He’s been in prison and is trying to get his life back together while also dealing with his teenage son, who lives in another city with Lindon’s mother. One day, Binoche’s former lover, Francois, appears, which throws their lives out of balance, as he’s also Lindon’s former best friend and business partner, and he wants Lindon to join him in business again. We enter into a push-and-pull that feels like thrashing ocean waves, as Binoche wants Lindon to work with Francois, but then isn’t so sure, while Lindon is initially apprehensive but eventually sees the opportunity, even knowing Binoche still has feelings for Francois. The jittery way Denis shoots the entire thing gives what might otherwise be a domestic drama a strong undercurrent of menace—we feel something must be very wrong, but we’re not sure what. Does that shot of his hand indicate violence? Or is it nothing at all?

We wonder why the characters do such contradictory things, and whether Francois had anything to do with Lindon being in jail, but having these holes in information means Both Sides of the Blade continues even after it’s over—we start to fill in those holes ourselves, the way cells in our bodies might knit into artificial tissue placed in us during surgery. Claire Denis doesn’t seem content with just showing us the movie, she trusts us to be a part of it ourselves.

Both Sides of the Blade is available on VOD.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.