Cannes Film Festival 2023: Virginie Efira under the influence in “Love and the Forests”, a powerful marital thriller

Each appearance of Virginie Efira in Cannes is a guaranteed standing ovation. After Nothing to loseby Delphine Deloget, Love and Forests, adaptation of the eponymous novel by Eric Reinhardt which received the Renaudot Prize for high school students in 2014, is the second feature film featuring the Franco-Belgian actress, a public favorite on the Croisette. The film, presented in the Cannes Première section, was released simultaneously in theaters on Wednesday May 24.

Without really looking for it, Blanche believes she has met the great love that was missing in her life in the person of Grégoire, a childhood friend whom she finds again years later. Their story seems obvious and builds quickly, with a wedding and a baby. One day, Grégoire announces his transfer to Blanche in Metz, taking him away from his family established in Caen. Very quickly, this new life presents itself to her as a trap: she will discover the true face of a jealous, manipulative and threatening man and lock herself up in spite of herself in an infernal spiral.

Double role, double pain

Star of the film, Virginie Efira does not play one but two roles: that of Blanche but also of her twin sister to whom she is very close. A feat in terms of production but also interpretation, as the evolution of the two characters is so complex and closely linked. The main role goes through all the emotions in less than two hours: passion, distrust, amazement… then anxiety, fear and despair. Meanwhile, her twin, ingenious and determined, will do everything to allow her to regain control of her life. So many very different situations and expressions that can be read on the face of the 46-year-old actress like in an open book.

Facing her, Melvil Poupaud also offers an impressive range of attitudes: initially a confident and smiling seducer, he gradually becomes this “freak” possessive and manipulative, even Machiavellian. He will weave a toxic web around Blanche, cutting her off from her loved ones and putting her under his control, not hesitating to track her movements, to make her bear all the couple’s problems and make her feel guilty with their children.

“It’s a war”

The malaise in the couple, palpable in the first minutes of the film, gradually spreads like a disease that spreads irremediably. Following the thread of the novel, the escalation of violence, psychological and physical, takes shape in stages: moving, lying, harassment, madness and flight. And like the book, the film, co-written by Audrey Diwan (Lion d’Or 2021 at Venice for The event), includes a key scene: a romantic encounter in the forest with a lover for a day (played with finesse by the singer Bertrand Belin). It is this relationship that will allow Blanche to open her eyes to the world.

For her sixth film behind the camera, Valérie Donzelli manages to suggest without showing too much, to shock with words more than blows. The dialogues are gripping, the silences chilling. “It’s a war”will even sum up a character from the film, like the symbol of the fight that the filmmaker wanted to bring to the screen: “I explore the point of view of a victim but it is the story of a repair, a liberation, an awareness”, explained Valérie Donzelli during the presentation of the film in Cannes. A striking psychological thriller that would have deserved its place in competition.

The poster of "Love and Forests", in theaters Wednesday, May 24.  (Copyright Diaphana Distribution)

The sheet

Gender : psychological drama
Director: Valerie Donzelli
Actors: Virginie Efira, Melvil Poupaud, Dominique Reymond
Country : France
Duration : 1h45
Exit : May 24, 2023
Distributer :
Diaphana Cast

When Blanche crosses paths with Gregoire, she thinks she’s meeting the one she’s looking for. The bonds that unite them are woven quickly and their story is built in anger. The couple moves, Blanche moves away from her family, her twin sister, opens up to a new life. But wire after wire, she finds herself under the influence of a possessive and dangerous man.

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