Mourir d’aimer – Review

Mourir d’aimer – Review

mourir_d_aimer01

Name: Mourir d’aimer (To Die of Love)

Release Year: 1971

Language: French

Director: Andre Cayatte

Running Time: 1 h 47

Rating: PG

Genre: Drama

Plot Summary:

Daniele, a political activist and school professor, falls in love with her student Gerard. His outraged parents use the law to imprison her and keep the two apart.

Review:

Everyone who knows me knows that I am absolutely obsessed with Charles Aznavour and every one of his beautifully poetic songs. I’ve had Mourir d’aimer on repeat for a couple of days now and as I was reading about the song and its background, I discovered that Aznavour had written it in honor of Gabrielle Russier. Gabrielle was a school teacher who fell in love with her teenage student in the late 60’s and killed herself after being convicted of statutory rape. A couple of google searches later, I found this movie.

I was under the impression that Charles Aznavour had written the song for the movie, and, obsessed as I am, I decided to watch it (Turns out the song came out before the movie). Due to the controversial subject matter, the movie caused uproar in the French society when it came out in the early 70’s. I firmly believe that there is a thin line between being artistic and being vulgar, and I tend to measure the success of any controversial material based on this criteria. This movie had the serious risk of becoming very disturbing but it managed to handle the subject matter in a very beautiful and tasteful way.

Plot:

Daniele, a confident and passionate teacher, is very popular among her students because she pushes them to think for themselves and not bow to propaganda. She, herself, was involved in the 1968 manifestations that shook France and in the process falls in love with Gerard, her student.  His parents seem to be fine with the two getting closer at first but eventually try to separate them and employ many methods including petitioning to fire Daniele, kicking Gerard out of high school, putting him in a psychiatric ward, and finally using the law to imprison Daniele.

Daniele with her students
Daniele with her students

Halfway through the movie, I grew frustrated with Daniele. Why was she doing this?  Gerard was going through hell in the psychiatric ward and she was the adult in the relationship; couldn’t she sacrifice their love for his well-being at least? If she really loved him, she wouldn’t want him to go through this. Why was she being so stubborn? But as the movie progressed, it became clear that Daniele and Gerard (and the other students who supported the two) weren’t fighting for just their relationship but for the right to love.

Daniele during one of her classes
Daniele during a class: “Freedom is a state of mind”

This movie is essentially about clashing ideals. On one side you have the parents who refuse to accept that their son is involved with an older woman, they see her as a vicious witch who has ensnared their son, and on the other side you have the two lovers who wanted to fight for their right to fall in love without anyone questioning it.

Daniele is later convicted of statutory rape and ends up committing suicide. As the pain stricken Gerard belatedly rushes to her, her voiceover says: “I hope that what is happening to me serves in something at least, even if it may seem like a defeat.”

At a glance, it may seem like she had given up, like her will had been shattered. However, it wasn’t a defeat; her suicide made her a martyr of love. No matter what your view is on their love, it is very difficult not to respect the two of them for holding onto their beliefs till the very end.

Acting:

Bruno Pradal as Gerard, Annie Giardot as Daniele
Bruno Pradal as Gerard, Annie Giardot as Daniele

I think the casting of Gerard had the ability to make or break this movie. Bruno Pradal portrayed the role with great maturity and was Daniele’s equal. Not one time did it feel like she was taking advantage of him; the two had great chemistry and their love seemed so genuine and natural that you couldn’t help but sympathize with them.

The supporting cast played their roles beautifully. I hated the parents; how could they prefer to send their healthy son to a psychiatric ward rather than let him be with the woman he genuinely loved? I had a hard time believing that they were doing it to protect their son, it felt like spite more than anything else.

Some of my favorite scenes in the movie included Daniele’s students going against their parents’ wishes and going to her apartment to show their support. Is it ageist of me to say that the younger generations have always had a more open mind? The students had few scenes but they managed to capture that sense of youthful but understated rebellion perfectly. Their solidarity made the outcome of this movie all the more heartbreaking.

Final Verdict:

I couldn’t help but ask myself: if the genders had been switched and if the movie had been about an older man falling in love with a sixteen year old girl, would I have sympathized with them?  Well, if their love had been portrayed to be as genuine and honest as Daniele and Gerard’s then yes, I would have still sympathized with the two. The movie has been criticized for being too demagogic, so maybe that’s why I feel this way. But the truth remains that it’s a very interesting story and it raises a lot of questions, especially knowing that it is based on a true story.

I leave you to ponder on them with the English translation to Charles Aznavour’s song: Mourir d’aimer

To Die of Love

The walls of my life are flat
I cling to them but I slip
Slowly to my destiny
To die of love

As the world judges me
I only see one escape
All the exists are sealed
To die of love

To die of love
To willingly sink into the night
To pay love at the price of one’s life
To sin against the body but not against the soul

Let’s leave the world to its problems
Let’s leave heinous people to face themselves
With their small ideas
To die of love

As our love cannot live
It’s better to close its book
Rather than to burn it
To die of love

To leave with one’s head held high
To be victorious in a defeat
To reverse all the cards
To die of love

To die of love
As one might from anything
To leave everything behind
And only carry what was us, what was you

You are spring and I am autumn
Your heart takes, mine gives
And my destiny is already traced
To die of love

To die of love

To die of love

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