Fans of Claire Denis’ Let the Sunshine In will find familiar ground in her latest feature. She reunites with Juliette Binoche for another tale of a woman’s search for that elusive romantic spark, but this time with roots that must be ripped out on the journey. Sara (Binoche) lives with her husband Jean (Vincent London), who left his wife to be with her in a time long enough ago not to matter, but recent enough that memories of stolen nights are fresh. Their passion, captured in the sun-drenched opening, is luminous. But Sara’s past, in the form of ex-boyfriend François (Grégoire Colin), resurfaces as a figure under her balcony; Jean does not notice Sara’s disturbance when he takes François’ call. The two men almost immediately go into business with one another, and Sara’s confusion about the road not taken pushes all relationships – familial, romantic, and collegial – to breaking point. 

Fire (Both Sides of the Blade) is a quintessential first world problems film, and Sara’s vacillation and the sudden snaps that appear mid-scene – turning mundane conversations into screaming matches – do nothing to argue the story’s meaning in the world. Binoche is typically magnetic, and her dynamic with both men – charged and sensual in their own ways – compels even as domestic disaster (and sometimes, awkward comedy) ensues. But the connecting material is lacking. 

A fascinating aspect of the film is its integration of Covid habits and constant face masks into its milieu. Instead of feeling depressing or dour, this seamless and unremarkable inclusion is its best judged element. 

Three wry and loving character studies do not mould into a cohesive, satisfying whole, though their journey is constantly compelling up to the ending’s damp squib. Fire (Both Sides of the Blade) is not Denis’ next masterpiece, but its merits may grow on reflection. 



CAST: Juliette Binoche, Vincent London, Grégoire Colin

DIRECTOR: Claire Denis

WRITERS: Christine Angot, Claire Denis

SYNOPSIS: When Sara sees her former lover on the street, he finds a way back into her life through her husband’s business.