There is an irony in the title “No Love Lost”: the hole left in a lover’s wake can still shape a person’s entire existence. In short, there is a lot lost. Erwan Le Duc (“The Bare Necessity”) writes and directs the 2023 Cannes Critics’ Week closing film which was heralded by the festival as a “bittersweet comedy about fatherhood and filiation with a poetic and offbeat angle”, and delivers on many fronts.
Nahuel Pérez-Biscayart plays Étienne, an up-and-coming football player who has a whirlwind “Up” romance with protester Valérie (Mercedes Dassy) within the film’s first five minutes. The two have an instant connection after both evade the police at a demonstration, but their fearless young love (they are in their early twenties) soon becomes more complicated when Valérie discovers she is pregnant by her. A wordless montage captures their romance until Valérie leaves baby Rosa and Étienne at her parents’ house, promising to park the car but never to return.
Étienne moves through the various stages of mourning through years of parenting with Rosa: first, he is offering hope, and then he begins to silently move through the world, paralyzed by heartbreak. It is only when Rosa is about 10 that he deals with Valérie’s departure, expressing the extent of her loss.
“Absence is not a feeling. You cannot love someone who is absent ”, Étienne says to Rosa who, in turn, promises never to leave him. This becomes the crux of the film as a teenage Rosa (Céleste Brunnquell) prepares to leave for college, threatening to mirror her mother’s abandonment in action.
Rosa is always on the go in the world and, according to her high school boyfriend Youssef (Mohammed Louridi), symbolically escapes from the shadow her absent mother has left behind. Besides, it’s just more convenient for Youssef’s budding writing career to grasp Rosa and Étienne’s shared “trauma” and do it just for inspiration’s sake.
“She was your creator,” Youssef tells the father-daughter duo over dinner, citing the mark Valérie inadvertently left on them both. Yet Étienne is firm in seeing her trajectory differently: “My life is not tragic,” he replies.
And Étienne believes it. He is torn between exploring new love with girlfriend Hélène (Maud Wyler) and protecting Rosa’s fleeting childhood, all while their family home is sold. Rosa encourages Étienne to show his emotions, but he is the stoic pillar of being an only parent. While Étienne is reluctant to lose the hope she still carries for Valérie’s return, Rosa is determined to understand the mother she never knew, even at one point kissing her father to understand Valérie’s femininity or the attraction she had about Étienne.
“No Love Lost” is based on the Wes Anderson-esque shot and the emotional eyes of the protagonist Pérez-Biscayart that always seem to dart through each frame, silently searching for the ghost of Valérie in a desperate search for an answer to Rosa’s questions. The quaint French film becomes just an overt physical journey to find Valérie in the last act; it’s the emotional buildup to the decision to even resurrect her idea that the film shines.
There may be “No Love Lost” between Étienne and Rosa, but it’s the lost time about what might have happened if Valérie had stayed in their lives that fuels the fodder around the separation anxiety shared between father and daughter. The presence of this absence is what writer-director Le Duc is adept at alternating with, and while the latest of him doesn’t break the mold, like Étienne and Rosa, it is truly worth sticking around for.
“No Love Lost” premiered at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution in the United States.