Smaller perhaps than his other films, but no less intense, Patrice Chéreau’s 2009 character study, “Persecution,” (included in the current edition of Rendez-Vous with French Cinema) is anchored by Romain Duris’ riveting performance as Daniel, who renovates residential real estate in Paris. He’s angry, jangly, needy, at loose ends and in constant motion.
Daniel’s life is empty–but complicated. Apparently homeless, he sleeps on his job sites. He’s distanced from his two closest friends, Thomas, whom he’d long neglected to introduce to his girlfriend of three years, Sonia (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and Michel, whom he constantly berates. His obsessive certainty that his cherished (yet unfulfilling) relationship with emotionally tamped down Sonia (endlessly in flight for her unspecified, high-powered job), is foundering, contributes to its demise.
When a middle-aged stalker (Jean-Hugues Anglade, credited as Le Fou) first appears, naked, passed out at one of the construction sites, Daniel roughly rouses and forcibly throws him out, as the intruder professes his love. Whatever initial fear of the stalker Daniel has soon yields to a feeling of inconvenience, bewilderment and then almost resignation–he’s as ineffective in this “relationship” as in his others.
Although little that preceded the film’s story is explained, and what proceeds is mostly unresolved, “Persecution” is magnetic. Almost passively, Daniel and Sonia separate, briefly reunite, end in tears, and the perfect voice of melancholy, Anthony (and the Johnsons)–and were his unrivaled voice less perfect, the use of “The Mysteries of Love” would be a cliché–is heard over the end credits.
“Persecution, ” in its New York premiere, will be shown tonight at 9:40 pm at BAMcinématek. Romain Duris (discovered on the street in Paris by director Cédric Klapisch), who makes thinking, adult women comfortable with acknowledging him as the cause of “the beat that our hearts skipped” will attend the screening and introduce the film, along with James Toback.