This is one of the finest acted movies I've ever seen...but, in my opinion, it has a somewhat uninvolving story. La Separation features two great actors, Isabelle Huppert as Anne and Daniel Auteuil as Pierre, in a one hour and 25 minute story of a marriage that dissolves for no one reason but many small reasons. In one scene they are lying, fully clothed, in bed after Anne has returned from seeing her lover, although it is unclear if Anne and the man made or have ever made love.
"What did I do wrong?" asks Pierre. "Nothing," Anne says. "You won't say?" "It's nothing specific. Just a lot of little things." "Tell me." "I don't know," Anne says. "Maybe we didn't talk enough. By not talking we put up with things we shouldn't have." "You could have told me." "I did." "Not like this." "I did in a different way. You just wouldn't listen...it's just...I met someone who listens to me... who's interested in me...who pays attention to me. That's all."
The story is told more from Pierre's point of view. He discusses things with two friends. He makes videotapes of his 18-month-old son and records his sad realization that these tapes will probably be the closest he'll be to his son after Anne leaves him. At first he's calm and puzzled, but then begins to seethe with frustration and hopelessness. Anne in her way loves him, but has come to learn that marriage to Pierre will eventually drown her in...nothing; less passion, less feeling.
Auteuil's Pierre is something of a sad sack. He always needs a shave. He seems to have few emotional resources. His love for his young son is palpable. He'll see the boy two weekends a month, but knows that will never be enough to really be in his son's life. Huppert, as usual, is a master at demonstrating less is more. She shows less emotion, her motives are, on the surface, perhaps egocentric. As we realize what Anne's life has become, however, Huppert demonstrates the longing for something more...with a glance, a tentative motion to touch Pierre on the shoulder, a flash of exasperation. She's not heartless, she may not entirely know what she wants, but with Pierre she has come to know what she doesn't want. As one character says, "With a couple, one suffers and the other one's bored, and vice versa."
Why do I think the movie is somewhat uninvolving? Because the story-line goes straight from A (We see Anne pull her hand away from Pierre when he reaches out to touch her and she later tells him he irritated her) to Z (The divorce has been granted and we last see Pierre, scruffy as usual, wandering at night lost amongst some small streets trying to catch a cab). There are no surprises, no expectations and, in my view, just an overly film-ish look at the marriage's disintegration. For the most part, Anne and Pierre are just too civilized about everything, and all the doors to explore are closed by the conventions of the film. Could Pierre really not shape himself up, or at least try? Is Anne really as committed to a new life without Pierre as she seems? We never meet the other man, and toward the end of the movie he's no longer a factor in the plot. Although we learn that the divorce conditions will strongly favor the wife, could Pierre not privately work out with Anne much more contact with their son?
With all that said, Huppert and Auteuil are the heart of the film. They are so subtle and so authentic that I was completely caught up in the feelings of their characters -- and only later after a second viewing was I really aware of the job they were doing. These two actors make this movie worth watching.