“This marriage must be undone.”
In the French film This Sweet Sickness David Martineau (Gerard Depardieu) is obsessed with childhood sweetheart, Lise (Dominique Laffin). The fact that Lise is married and has a baby does not deter David from his obsessive drive to possess her. David works in Poissy as an accountant and lives in a small flat in town. Every weekend, he leaves town and tells his landlord that he’s visiting his aged parents in a nursing home. In reality, he goes to the beautiful home he has prepared for Lise.
David’s neighbour, Juliette (Miou-Miou) is obsessed with David. It doesn’t seem to matter to her that David is rude, abrupt and sometimes downright hostile. She’s decided that he’s the man for her, and that’s all that matters.
So here we have two characters–both quiet and somewhat introverted who are both obsessed with unattainable people. The great irony here is that while David recognizes the futility of Juliette’s passion for him, and while Juliette recognizes the futility for David’s passion for Lise, neither David or Juliette are capable of analyzing their own irrational behaviour.
This Sweet Sickness is a case study in obsession. It’s easy for the audience to see that David’s fascination with Lise is going nowhere–just as it is easy to see that Juliette is wasting her time on David. Director Claude Miller emphasizes the insanity of the situation by selecting two lead actresses–Miou-Miou as Juliette and Dominique Laffin as Lise–who are virtually interchangeable. These two actresses are the same build, have the same even facial features, and when they wear the same sort of wooly hat–they are impossible to tell apart. Of course, this makes David’s drive to possess the unattainable Lise ridiculous and insane–especially when he has Lise’s close-to-identical twin, Juliette–practically throwing herself at his feet. There could be no better illustration of the idea that obsession or love will brook no substitute for the real thing.
David is a fascinating and utterly repulsive character in this film. Depardieu plays the role with an edge of explosive violence that makes the character seem all-too real. Lise is a bit of an enigma. She has a few opportunities to crush David’s obsession, and yet she seems to hesitate to deliver the final coup-de-grace. Does she secretly enjoy the attention? Does she secretly consider the possibilities? Whatever Lisa’s motivations are, her passivity fuels the situation. The third main character, Juliette, should be sympathetic, but somehow her dilemma failed to arouse this emotion in me, and I disliked her as much as David. She is a less violent version of David, and certainly has victim status, but she’s not admirable for this. She is every bit as sick as David, and she also helps make a bad situation even worse.
Two other minor characters play interesting roles in this film. David’s landlord, Chouin, appears to be the moral centre of the film, but then he too shows his misogynistic side. David’s married libidinous friend, Francois pursues Juliette–but then it’s clear that he pants after anything remotely female. He objectifies the recipient of his ‘affections,’ and he is also incapable of a relationship involving reciprocity. Are all these characters suffering from the same ‘sweet sickness’–victims of their own fantasies, desires and illusions?
For Depardieu fans, this French film is certainly worth watching. The film is based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith.