Simple Passion




A close focus on an intense relationship in a film that never holds back.

Simple Passion  

Complex passions: Sergei Polunin and Lætitia Dosch


At one point in this film, a work by the Franco-Lebanese filmmaker Danielle Arbid, Hélène (Laetitia Dosch), a university lecturer in Paris, is speaking to her young son Paul (Lou-Teymour Thion) and seeking to assure him of her love. She tells him that he is her life, but it's not true. Arbid's film, an adaptation of the 1992 novel by Anne Ernaux, is a concentrated look at a woman swept up by a passion that makes everything else in her life insignificant. It's a portrait that gives us a film positively riddled with sex, so much so that it is the kind of narrative that could have been no more than an excuse for a pornographic movie. But here the passionate sexual bond between Hélène and Aleksandr Svitsine (Sergei Polunin) is utterly of the essence because it is portrayed as ruling their lives in defiance of everything else.


A sexual encounter in a hotel immediately persuades both Hélène and Aleksandr that they have experienced something beyond what they have known before with anybody else. Hélène is aware that Aleksandr once lived in Moscow and is a Russian now functioning as an official in their embassy in Paris, but she doesn't know anything more about him except that he is married. Their passion is such that his marriage is irrelevant to her and so is the fact that, having separated from her husband (Grégoire Colin), she should be intent on raising their schoolboy son. For that matter Hélène's friends share her intellectual and cultural tastes but Aleksandr doesn't. Again that is irrelevant to her.


It seems likely that Simple Passion will appeal most to audiences who have either themselves been caught up in such a seismic affair or else are intrigued to see one portrayed so convincingly. It should also be emphasised that the tale is told from Hélène's viewpoint. That may tick certain boxes today, but some female viewers may question Hélène's assertion, one seemingly borne out by what is happening to her, that even feminists become submissive when in love (if young Paul loses out to his mother's obsession with Aleksandr so too does her interest in the thesis that she is writing about the author Aphra Behn).


Rather than offering a wider picture (there are few subsidiary characters and this passion has already absorbed Hélène's life at the film's outset) Simple Passion devotes itself to this extreme emotional bond. It helps enormously that Dosch gives such a committed performance and that she and Polunin have such chemistry together. The central relationship is made totally credible. For her part, Arbid brings out the extent to which songs can express what lovers are feeling and, even if Leonard Cohen's 'The Stranger Song' is given special emphasis, the very French flavour of Simple Passion is enhanced by soundtrack songs featuring Charles Aznavour and the composer Jacques Brel. I can't claim that Arbid's chosen subject has any special appeal for me personally, but I can assure anyone who feels drawn to this film that it is most persuasively handled.


Original title: Passion simple.




Cast: Laetitia Dosch, Sergei Polunin, Lou-Teymour Thion, Caroline Ducey, Grégoire Colin, Slimane Dazi.


Dir Danielle Arbid, Pro Philippe Martin and David Thion, Screenplay Danielle Arbid, from the novel by Annie Ernaux, Ph Pascale Granel, Pro Des Charlotte de Cadeville, Ed Thomas Marchand, Costumes Oriol Nogues.


Les Films Pelléas/Versus Production/Auvergne Rhône-Alpes Cinéma/Proximus/Ciné+-Artificial Eye.
99 mins. France/Belgium. 2020. Rel: 5 February 2021. Available on Curzon Home Cinema. Cert. 18.