With its themes of psychologically abusive relationships, secret families, and underage sex, An Impossible Love could have easily been a dark, and very schlocky, slice of melodrama. And while Catherine Corsini’s film does stray into that territory on occasion, it generally opts to keep things classier and more genial in its tale of romantic and platonic love across the latter half of the 20th Century. The result is an inoffensive and well-acted, but often slow, piece that never feels exploitative but also doesn’t do much to raise the pulse.
Opening in the late ‘50s, we first meet star-crossed lovers Rachel (Virginie Efira) and Philippe (Niels Schneider) at their local dance hall. The two most attractive people in the room, they’re drawn to one another, and Efira and Schneider have an instant spark and chemistry that makes them fun to watch in this nervy encounter. Rachel is drawn irresistibly to Philippe, who is multilingual and just a little mysterious, but there are also immediate red flags. He asks probing questions about Rachel’s Jewish heritage and rambles on about his love for Nietzsche. Their relationship starts promisingly enough, but after Rachel gets pregnant, Philippe’s true colours show and he abandons her and their daughter Chantal, refusing to acknowledge Chantal as his child.
This torrid quasi-romance, as Rachel and Philippe half-heartedly attempt to patch things up over the next seven or so years, is intermittently compelling, thanks mostly to two great central performances. Efira and Schneider are ever-present, solid aging make-up showing the passage of time instead of any recasting, and Efira in particular makes a lasting impression. All the injustice and hurt heaped upon Rachel starts to take its toll, physically and mentally, and Efira conveys this very well. When Philippe tells her he plans to marry a young and rich German woman, Rachel’s silent, shaking rage is infectious.
This ‘impossible love’ gives way, though, to the difficult mother-daughter relationship between Rachel and Chantal. The film really slows down once this plot gets underway, and a lot of it has the feeling of a badly overextended epilogue that perhaps needed to lean more into its melodramatic side to hold interest. By the end, there’s very little to root for and An Impossible Love has worn out its welcome. It’s a very well-acted and admirably mature drama, but boredom does set in well before the finale.