Zabou Breitman’s Je l’aimais – Someone I Loved (2009) The Movie Based on Anna Gavalda’s Novel

I wasn’t aware of this movie until I read about it on Guy Savage’s second blog Phoenix Cinema. I liked Anna Gavalda’s short story collection I Wish Someone Were Waiting For Me Somewhere (Je voudrais que quelqu’un m’attende quelque part) and her subsequent novel Someone I Loved (Je l’aimais) a great deal and was looking forward to watch the movie.

Zabou Breitman’s Je l’aimais or Someone I Loved is a very subtle, touching movie and the main actors are amazing, all three of them.

At the beginning we don’t really know what happened. Pierre (Daniel Auteuil), Chloë’s father-in-law, drives her and her two kids to their holiday house, near Annecy. It’s quite cold, the mountains look bleak, there is a constant drizzle and the young woman is crying during the whole trip. At the same time she emanates a fierceness. She seems desperate, wounded and angry at the same time. Florence Loiret Caille plays the wounded woman with such intensity, it’s painful to watch, we forget that it is a movie and think that we are really watching someone in distress and pain.

Once arrived in the little house, the girls start watching TV non-stop, Chloë cries and Pierre tries to take care of them. For a while, it works more or less, they hardly talk, keep politely distant but then Chloë has a break out and shouts and screams and tells Pierre she can’t take it any longer, these polite silences, the way how in their family they always remain silent, never talk and that this silence is precisely the reason why she never saw it coming. She never even expected that her husband had a mistress, she wasn’t prepared to be left like this, without forewarning.

This outburst, the honesty and directness move Pierre and he starts to talk. First he tells Chloë about his brother who died very young after having served in Indochina and later he tells her that he also had an affair.

We see the story of the love of his life in flashbacks, we watch how he meets Mathilde (an excellent Marie-Josée Croze) in Hong Kong on a business trip, how he falls in love head over heels, how they continue seeing each other for years in different places, Hong Kong, Paris, anywhere in the world. He tells Chloë of his extreme happiness, how well they felt together until the day Mathilde asked him what would become of them. From that moment on things got complicated.

Despite a loveless marriage Pierre cannot break free. There is his wife, the children, his reputation, the house, the holiday house, his habits, his way of life. He would have liked to go on like they did forever, meeting Mathilde whenever possible, but not changing his routine. For a while Mathilde accepts this but one day she cannot take it any longer and Pierre must make a decision.

It is easy to judge Pierre and I guess everyone who watches this movie at a certain moment will judge him. But after a while one starts to understand and one also understands why he told Chloë his story. He doesn’t want her to keep back his son. He doesn’t want his son to be a coward and to destroy two lives.

Je l’aimais is a great example of what French cinema has to offer. Actors who are so excellent, they let you experience what the characters they portray go through. The three people come across as so vulnerable and naked, it’s quite amazing. The camera seems glued to their faces and they fill the screen at any moment, every gesture, every facial expression is meaningful.

I couldn’t find an English trailer and had to attach the French one but there are subtitled versions of the movie available.

Je l’aimais is my first contribution to Book Bath‘s and Thyme for Tea‘s event Paris In July.

I decided to do a weekly French cinema post on Sunday starting today until the end of the month.

16 thoughts on “Zabou Breitman’s Je l’aimais – Someone I Loved (2009) The Movie Based on Anna Gavalda’s Novel

    • I liked it and I like Auteuil a lot. I think it is one of his best movies. All three actors are excellent. At first I tought “Oh no, not again an affair” but it is different. I read the book right after it came out and sadly only remember that I liked it. I think it is different.

    • Thanks, Karen. I haven’t read Consolation. I only read the first two so far and got Ensemble c’est tout/Hunting and Gathering here. I hope you will enjoy it. I’ll make sure to read your review.

  1. I loved this book when I read it and I’m going to rent the movie. Auteuil is a wonderful actor and I guess he’s the right choice for the part.

    If anyone other than Caroline reads this, I wouldn’t start reading Anna Gavaldaby Consolation. It’s not her best book.

    • I’ll be interested to hear what you think. I always liked Daniel Auteuil. Maybe your memory of the book is fresher than mine and I would like to hear how you think they compare. I had a feeling the atmosphere was very differet but that is also due to the main settings, the holiday house near Annecy and Hong Kong. I did not know Zabou Breitman, I really like what she did.

      • I don’t recall the book well enough to compare it to the film. I don’t remember it took place near Annecy but the Région Rhône Alpes is very active in attracting film directors.

        All this makes me think of other films:
        – the ones by Pascal Thomas with Dussolier et C. Frot based on Agatha Christie’s novels. They were filmed in the Alps and in Lyon. There are beautiful lanscapes and it’s funny — I know “funny” isn’t the first adjective that comes to mind for A. Christie (Mon petit doigt m’a dit / Le Crime est notre affaire)
        – Se souvenir des belles choses by Zabou Breitman. Wonderful. Heartbreaking but beautiful. Sensitive without being corny. Unusual.

        She also filmed No et moi, based on the novel by Delphine de Vigan. Do you want to read it along in July or August and watch the film afterwards? I’d like to. It’s not a long book and I wanted to read more of Delphine de Vigan after Underground Time.

        • Thanks for the recommendations. I’m very tempted to read with you but I’m a bit scared it may be too much, I’ll be extremely busy towards the ed of this and next month and my readalong title for August, La Storia, has over 800 pages. If you can wait until let’s say the second week of August, that might be feasible also to order it. I haven’t seen it in a book shop here.
          I’m going to read Balzac’s La Vendetta with Danielle this month. We will post on July 19. It has 80 pages. Would that tempt you? I know it is one of his early stories and after La fille aux yeux d’or…. Anyway, if you’d like to read along, that would be nice.

          • I’m going to spend more than 20 hours in trains in the next 6 weeks, so I’ll have time to read and I can wait for you at the end of August for No et moi, no problem. It’s available on Amazon in paperback.

            I’m on my way to find the kindle version or a PDF version of La Vendetta (a story in Corsica or some Spanish setting like Carmen?). I’ll be happy to join you.

            • It is set in Paris but that’s all I know. I have it in the collection La maison du Chat-qui-pelote. It is one of the Scènes de la vie privée but, it seems, written before he really started the Comédie Humaine. I pray for it to be very different from La Fille aux Yeux d’or.
              I’ll order No et moi.

  2. This sounds wonderful – is the movie very close to the book? I have some Anna Gavalda somewhere on my shelves, I think, and now I would really like to read something by her.

    • Yes it is close but the setting is very important in the movie which isn’t the case in the novel. In any case the novel is even better. The first two books, the short stories as well as this novel are very good. I got Ensemble c’est tout as well and will read it soon, hopefully.

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