The question of how much context is appropriate to provide in a film review is just as subjective as the reviewer’s opinion itself. While some critics academically approach their reviews as if the film in question was experienced in a void outside of space & time, I tend to over-divulge extratextual information to the point where I sometimes write more about the environment surrounding the film than the work itself. This will likely be one of those instances. I can only justify my mild enjoyment of the trashy French crime thriller All That Divides Us by explaining the time & place where I saw it: a local film festival. The patrons at New Orleans French Film Fest tend to be geriatric NPR liberals looking for classy, highbrow fare like Breathless & The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which is why it tickled me so much to catch a classless, violent B-movie with them gasping in horror in the same room. I doubt I would have thought much of All That Divides Us if I were watching it alone in my living room or while sipping wine at a sparsely-attended multiplex, but in the stuffy company of unsuspecting film festival olds it was a much-needed breath of nasty air.
Catherine Deneuve stars as steely mother figure struggling to maintain both her deceased husband’s shipping dock business & her adult daughter’s deteriorating life. Diane Kruger co-leads as the daughter, a still-lives-at-home brat who finds herself tragically addicted to opioids after a life-threatening car accident. This addiction brings a nearby crime world of drugs, theft, assault, and gunfire into their privileged, sheltered lives. The daughter’s drug dealer/lover is a pronounced point of connection between these opposing realms, one that results in an accidental manslaughter, a subsequent coverup, and a prolonged case of blackmail. As the title suggests, the movie is very self-serious about the divisions between the wealthy & the poor and the seedy, violent ways those barriers can be breached. The culture clash sparked by Kruger’s opioid-addicted rich girl (who feels like a faint echo of the deafening effect Jennifer Jason Leigh achieves in Good Time) is difficult to take too seriously, though, as its sentimental music cues & melodramatic drogue approaches a Lifetime quality in their overt cheese. The film is much more committed in its attempts to create an 8 Mile-style melodrama for French rapper Nekfeu (making his first-time acting debut as one of the drug-dealing hoodlums) than it is in tackling any kind of well-considered economic politics. Even so, 8 Mile never felt this much like a direct-to-DVD release.
While All That Divides Us did little to impress me narratively or thematically, I frequently found myself surprised by its willingness to get downright nasty. Characters bet on dogfights, force victims to smoke crack at gunpoint, erotically choke each other during sex, blackmail, cheat, kill, and say meanly dismissive things to their sex partners like “You were good for my prostate.” There are a couple stray moments of unintentional humor (like Kruger & Deneuve’s half-assed attempts to sink a body in water or Nekfeu proudly proclaiming “I’m a badass,”) but most of the movie’s fun is in its warped, tasteless imitation of 90s-era crime thrillers. The movie neither fully commits enough to its own reflections on economic disparity to be taken seriously nor has enough fun with its own trashiness to be truly memorable (Catherine Deneuve wielding as shotgun for most of the third act without ever firing it is especially unforgivable). If you can catch it in the right mood with the right crowd, though, it can be a mild delight. Its subject and French pedigree are deceptively highbrow enough to set expectations for something much classier than what’s delivered. If you can use that expectation to trick a room full of old people into watching B-movie trash this morally icky & grotesquely violent, that tension can make for a good time at the movies.