[12 September 2011]
PopMatters Features Editor
MY WORST NIGHTMARE
Director: Anne Fontaine
Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Benoît Poelvoorde, André Dussollier, Virginie Efira
Country: France / Belgium
Agathe (the iconic Isabelle Huppert) is a cold, distant woman of a certain age. Dictatorial and unfriendly at home, and an impassable tyrant at work, Agathe flits about her life with confidence and poise but little human energy. She doesn’t speak with people; she makes speeches. Her much older husband (André Dussollier) deals with her lack of warmth with a healthy shot of resignation. His marriage is sexless and dull, but it’s no big deal once you’ve given up caring about such things, right?
Enter Patrick (Benoît Poelvoorde), an out-of-work construction worker, foul-mouthed lout, and all-around cliché of the uncouth working class seizer of days. Before long, Patrick (who is father to a clever boy who has befriended Agathe’s dimwit son—the irony!) has insinuated himself into their lives, changing forever the farcical balance that had sustained their partnership. Quite uncomfortably, the film uses class stereotypes aggressively and persistently, relying upon them as scaffolding for this faux-existential narrative about awakening and self-actualization.
Unfortunately, so much of the film is about binary opposites uniting with their contrary number that we soon fall into a bit of a daze. There is, finally, no complexity here. The poor man needs the rich woman, the frigid shrew needs a good playful fucking from a man who we are told is “hung like a horse”, the bored aging high-brow husband needs a sprightly young blonde with her Tibetan prayer flags and herbal teas to remind him how to live. Ultimately, typically strong performances from Huppert, Dussollier and Poelvoorde can’t quite save this hopelessly predictable story.