Louis Malle's Damage is one of the many films of the early '90s dealing with violent, obsessive, sexual love.
Adapted by David Hare (Plenty, 1985) from Josephine Hart's novel, it focuses on the way passion has the power to thoroughly disorder a rigid, upper middle class milieu.
Jeremy Irons, in a brilliant performance, plays a politician suddenly drawn to his son's lover (Juliette Binoche) – a woman who, in her enigmatic silence, seems purely a male fantasy projection.
The drama of the film is unusually minimal. Malle and Hare deliberately avoid the obvious intrigues arising from this scenario of infidelity. Calmly, we watch the unravelling of Irons' life as he shuttles between the empty facades of his respectable world and his rendezvous with Binoche.
Their lovemaking scenes are severely stylised, prompting derisive or nervous laughter from many viewers. But they are nonetheless powerfully compelling.
Damage is one of those films better experienced than discussed. Articulated in a literary manner, its themes and characters are simplistic, even banal.
But Malle has made a crystalline, almost abstract film, where the gestures, silences, textures and light exist in perfect, organic harmony. For anyone truly interested in the art and craft of filmmaking, it is a must.
MORE Malle: Milou in May
© Adrian Martin August 1993