Divisions abound in Catherine Corsini’s “La Fracture” — French for “The Divide,” of course — in both personal and professional contexts. Raphaëlle AKA Raf (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) and Julie (Marina Foïs) are on the verge of breaking up after a decade spent together, enough of an impending separation to keep them mostly unaware of the other cracks that are forming in the very country they call home. Elsewhere in Paris, blue-collar Yann (Pio Marmaï) is steeped in his own crumbling worries, as he and other “yellow vests” take to the streets to protest a government they feel is not concerned with their well-being. Their interests could not be further apart, but in Corsini’s occasionally funny and quite painful “La Fracture,” they’ll find themselves suddenly pushed together. Don’t expect much healing to take place.
Raf and Julie’s relationship isn’t even on last legs, it’s barely hanging on by a toenail, and abrasive, needy Raf isn’t helping matters much. As Julie snores away next to her during the film’s opening moments, Raf fires off a series of increasingly insane text messages to her, all in hopes of rousing her long-time partner or at least not letting Julie enjoy a night unencumbered. But Julie snoozes away because she’s got an ace up her sleeve: she’s moving out, this is all over, and her life is about to get a whole lot better. Across town, Yann and a pal are hoping for the same thing, thanks to an upcoming demonstration with other like-minded compatriots.
But after the “demo” turns violent (injuring Yann and separating him from his friends), just as a screeching Raf falls down in the middle of the street (and grievously injuring her elbow), these two diametrically opposed Parisians find themselves suddenly seeking refuge at the same hospital. Don’t call it a meet-cute, though, because with these two loudmouths in residence, it’s more like a meet-grate.
Soon, they’re arguing across rooms, in otherwise empty hallways, even through walls. Perhaps they can help each other, a blunt enough idea, but who would want to help any of these people? “La Fracture” may wonder why people remain so divided, but it answers that question over and over again: because most people are goddamn annoying, and that’s long before you get down to any sort of political division. Julie comes and goes, as does a man from her past whom Raf (at least understandably enough) hates, along with a steady flow of hard-working hospital denizens.
Corsini keeps up the anxiety, jumping from scene to scene and person to person with a giddy, nervous energy that at least promises the film, as annoying as it might be, is never boring. A third act that hinges on more hardened human drama adds real emotion to the film, but it arrives far too late and is expected to do battle with the unnerving hour that predates it.
“La Fracture” is, at turns, both hilarious and painful, often in the same scene, such as a raucous sequence in which Raf is strapped into an X-ray machine at an awkward angle, a moment that is initially amusing because of her silly posture (ass out, feet dangling toward the floor) and that swiftly turns to actual discomfort (her technician has no idea how to keep her patient pain-free). And yet too often Corsini quickly buffs over her most compelling textures (the director also wrote the film, alongside Agnès Feuvre and Laurette Polmanss) to get on to another sequence of people screaming or acting badly or, hell, a ceiling falling in for no reason.
Yann, while initially presented as the more righteous of the duo, refuses to be left behind in the Irritating Olympics. His panic is understandable, given his condition (his leg is shot up, Corsini never balks from showing a gross, realistic-looking injury), but his beliefs are too often tempered by both reality (he’s protesting the government, yet he’s a hospital that provides free care, as paid for by, oops, the government) and his own self-involvement (he adores seeing his engagement levels tick up on social media). A vicious combination of pain (physical and emotional), medication, confusion, and boredom keeps Raf and Yann at each other’s throats, and stepping easily on the necks of anyone willing to watch it for its full running time.
The lone “likable” character is, funnily enough, the one non-professional actor in the bunch: Aïssatou Diallo Sagna, a real-life health care worker who brings genuine care, charisma, and texture to her turn as Kim. She’s got her own problems — like a sick baby at home — but that doesn’t stop her from trying to attend to her job and treating those around her with respect. It’s a lesson more people — both in the film and in the real world — could stand to learn, but that Corsini throws them together into one grating milieu indicates that she might not actually get how this all looks. It’s not so much a slice of life as it is a forceful chop, a violent confrontation that will turn off most people long before they can bridge any sort of divide.
“La Fracture” premiered in Competition at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.