Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

"Gourmet is phenomenal as the shopping centre aficionado who makes us understand a little more why the world is in the state it is in today."

Stéphane Demoustier directs a tableau of competition and passion with a keen eye for the universal in the very specific mundane. Managers in mass retail who dream of opening a store selling cut-rate women's shoes in a suburban shopping mall are rarely protagonists on the screen. In 40-Love (Terre Battue) Olivier Gourmet gives a mindful portrayal of a very ordinary man named Jérôme Sauvage at a crossroads. He loses his job, his 11-year-old son Ugo (Charles Mérienne) could be a tennis prodigy and his wife Laura (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) could leave both of them forever for another man.

Demoustier, who also co-wrote the screenplay (in collaboration with Gaëlle Macé), makes poignant choices with his debut feature in what he lays bare and what he leaves to our imagination. The when and how of people's communication is crucial and the mis-matched couple's state of mind is distilled in attentively constructed interactions.

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Laura is first seen in the family kitchen, chopping peppers (peppers seem to be the vegetable of choice in cinema) and Bruni Tedeschi on the right of the screen completely dominates the image. Jérôme, slouched at the counter on the left, seems to spring from a different movie, a bit like one of Disney's Seven Dwarfs checking on Snow White.

Gourmet is very convincing inspecting plastic heels and enthusiastically explaining that they look like suede or exclaiming that he finds the very ugly shopping centre parking structure "wonderful." Of course Jérôme's timing is impeccable when he decides to tell his wife about starting his own business when she is coming out of the shower. He encroaches on her in the small bathroom, completely oblivious of her needs. When she bursts into tears in the aisle of an expansive hardware depot, looking utterly forlorn, he gives her a hug. He doesn't understand that his compulsive purchase of shoes ("If I build another shelf, then I can buy you one new pair of shoes a month for the next five years!") is less a gift for her than it is for him.

The film is neither interested in villains and blame, nor in obvious foreshadowing of catastrophes to come. Demoustier places the unnoticed under the magnifying glass. The small tweaking of truth, a stupid act of drunken revenge in an attempt at male bonding make us aware of the huge effect parents' actions have on their children.

The walls in the son's room are plastered with posters of the tennis stars he idolises. Already, at age eleven, he starts to feel superior to his father and curses under his breath that a t-shirt he received as a gift looks cheap or that "it's horrible here." Ugo has the low heart rate of a champion. His coach Sardi (Jean-Yves Berteloot) pushing the boy to make his dream come true and be accepted for training at Roland Garros, tells him that "modern players have animal instinct - they defend their territory." The Sauvages ultimately live up to their family name. Their behavior is often so typical that it hurts.

Not since Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers On A Train has a tennis match created as much suspense as the one in 40-Love. The match turns the movie into a thriller and elegantly revolves back to the social study of what staying ahead really means for the individual trapped in a system that knows no right from wrong and where truth is a fluid concept that depends on being found out.

The direction the action takes is superbly unpredictable and yet completely in line with the characters. Gourmet, a regular in the films of the Dardennes who are co-producers here, is phenomenal as the shopping centre aficionado who makes us understand a little more why the world is in the state it is in today.

40-Love (Terre battue) will be screening at the 20th Anniversary of Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York.

Reviewed on: 01 Mar 2015
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When a man loses his job he is forced to become more involved with his tennis prodigy son.

Director: Stéphane Demoustier

Writer: Stéphane Demoustier, Gaëlle Macé

Starring: Olivier Gourmet, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Charles Mérienne, Vimala Pons, Jean-Yves Berteloot, Sam Louwyck, Husky Kihal, Sandrine Dumas, Olivier Brabant, François Godart, Fanny Roussel, Sylvain Pottiez, Elisabeth Tissot-Guerez, Antoine Loison, Tristan Martins

Year: 2014

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: France, Belgium

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