Both Sides of the Blade might sound at first like a quintessentially French movie, or perhaps even a parody of one. It stars Juliette Binoche and Vincent Lindon, two of France's best-known actors, as a couple who have a lot of sex and talk a lot about their emotions. Their scenes together have an erotic intimacy that we associate with French cinema, in part because it's relatively rare in American movies. Then a figure from the past returns and threatens their relationship; voices are raised, tables are turned and nothing will ever be the same.
That might make Both Sides of the Blade sound like standard soap-opera material, especially coming from Claire Denis, the director of daringly elliptical art films like Beau Travail and High Life. But nothing about the movie, which Denis and Christine Angot adapted from Angot's novel, feels trite or predictable. It's a jolt of a movie, full of hot-blooded sensuality one moment but then oddly cool and studied the next, almost as if it were deconstructing itself as it went along. Which, again, sounds very French, but never mind.