Credit: Carole Bethuel
by Sarah Williams Film

La Fracture | Catherine Corsini

July 12, 2021

The titular fracture, between Marina Foïs and Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi’s lesbian couple Julie and Raf, is one of three divides uniting La Fracture’s anxious reality. Physically, it’s an elbow fracture that sends Raf to the hospital waiting room after an argument pushes her ten-year relationship with Julie, with whom she has a son, over the edge; for the waiting room’s other occupants, it’s more an ideological fracture of Paris, a city divided by over-policing, class warfare, and a collapsing healthcare system. Far from the sweeping novelistic flourishes director Catherine Corsini has trademarked in recent years, with La Belle Saison and more notably in Un Amour Impossible, her latest embraces the frenetic, pivoting away from well-trod emotional formalism and into an unlikely blend of cringe comedy and gritty realism that finds its footing through her lead couple’s sheer emotional resolve. Perpetually wailing and almost cartoonishly histrionic, Bruni-Tedeschi’s screaming and thrashing bad patient carves out a delightfully obnoxious presence, a perfect foil to Foïs’ recently-typecasted grumpy lesbian. Sending thirty-four angrily abusive messages in the wee hours demanding a break-up, and then begging to be taken back the next morning, Raf evidently struggles to repair their romantic rift, its inter-spousal malaise paralleling her own social disconnect with the rest of France and its working classes with whom her spaced-out mind (on painkillers from the very painful dislocation of her arm) attempts several shrill and comically disconnected arguments on politics, identities, identity politics, and so on.

This frantic sensibility underscores La Fracture’s politically-charged undercurrents, but lest they be misconstrued as homilies, it should be noted that Corsini predominantly attunes her sympathies toward the beating heart of the emergency room — an otherwise struggling and dysfunctional environs whose injured occupants exhibit varying degrees and dimensions of stress, each exemplary of some moral conundrum and therefore immune to easy sympathy. Over the course of one long night, amid the violence of the Yellow Vests movements, the patients alternate between restlessness and lethargy; on the whole, however, the collective entropy soon balloons into a panic attack as indeterminate voices holler over one another, protestors from outside seek refuge within the hospital’s sterile walls, and the severely understaffed nurses wrestle with cases in order of severity and necessity. A trucker from the Yellow Vests, Yann (Pio Marmaï), wheels in from the Champs-Élysées with a gunshot wound to the leg, right as Raf’s bourgeois instincts — though she denies they exist — kick in and she accosts him over politics, lobbing Le Pen and Macron’s names back and forth in an accusatory circle-jerk of virtue-signaling. Elsewhere, a mentally ill patient has his paranoia dialed up to eleven with the threat of the police, trained to hunt down the remaining protestors, injured or otherwise, even outside of protest hours (synonymous with the former’s 9-to-5).

Firmly cognizant of the political background behind the material disorder at hand, La Fracture smartly avoids submergence within the dialectical waters of taxation increases and fuel price burdens, but neither does it preach (as what its middle-class leads’ presence might imply) a cheap brand of César-baiting humanism. Instead, Corsini synthesizes both her surveying of pent-up political anger and the oft-invisible diversity of after-effects this anger exerts on most bystanders, especially the silent and vulnerable ones within their midst. In our case, it is Kim (Aissatou Diallo Sagna), a Black nurse, who holds the tectonic pieces together as its moral center, a rare voice of reason in spite of the heightening emotional tensions around her. Resisting the angry crowds clamoring for treatment outside while suffering the irresponsible blame of patients within, she proves the most resilient and unjustly exploited character of all, the victim of an overburdened healthcare system who nonetheless must sacrifice greatly for the world outside to hobble along its fractured path. Sagna’s empathetic yet hardly self-pitying performance accompanies the hot-button social realities of a city on edge, which La Fracture leans heavily on (mostly for humorous effect), accentuating a steady pulse beneath the film’s otherwise kinetic anxiety — most prominently addressed in Robin Coudert’s dissonant score, which bears little resemblance to his work on Rebecca Zlotowski’s Planetarium, the latter’s sparkling romanticism replaced by harsh strings blended with sirens from incoming ambulances; and in Jeanne Lapoirie’s camera, realizing, through swift and sudden changes in frame rate, the fluidity of movement over an aesthetic appeal. For that alone, the film stands out among its cynically hackneyed ilk: it’s unrelenting, exhausted, but persists as oddly charming in places.

Published as part of Cannes Film Festival 2021 — Dispatch 2.