Catherine Corsini who previously helmed the politically-charged same-sex romance Summertime revisits similar thematic territory in The Divide. Detailing a couple on the verge of break-up being caught in the emergency room on the night of a Parisian yellow vest protest, The Divide takes aim at French social politics through a multi-faceted ensemble narrative dosed with a light humour.
With their relationship hanging on by a thread, Raf (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) and Julie (Marina Foïs) find themselves in the ER of a Parisian hospital, meanwhile protests rage on the streets of the city as workers take aim at a government that has no interest in them. Injured blue-collar protester Yann (Pio Marmaï) finds himself also situated in the chaotic hospital, soon drawn into a heated argument with Raf as the emergency room struggles to cope with the fallout from the protests.
Corsini and co-writers Agnès Feuvre and Laurette Polmanss craft characters as turbulent as the rioting streets of Paris during the protests. Opening with the infuriated Raf sending a string of increasingly insane texts to her lover who sleeps soundly next to her, the volatile and explosive personalities of the two women are established. Isolated from the events going on in the streets, the bourgeois couple’s only real connection is Julie’s adult son’s desire to get involved in the protests. These political seeds are planted, yet it is clear that the causes of the yellow vest protests have little real impact on the lives of this fractured middle-class couple. Yet The Divide thrusts them into the centre of this fiery debate by relocating their tense dynamic to the chaotic energy of the Emergency Room where those of all social backgrounds have very little choice but to interact in one another’s company.
Corsini directs these hospital scenes with a nervous energy, Jeanne Lapoirie’s camera is always in motion, whilst claustrophobic interiors filled with commotion and frantic energy give the sense of a truly high-pressure environment. Whilst Raf screams in agony, the result of a damaged arm and high-doses of ineffective pain-relief, screams of anger soon begin as she is drawn into heated debate with the similar emotionally volatile Yann. The flawed nature of both characters is very much on display here with the self-righteous man of the people Yann obsessed with social media engagement and happy to use the services of a free hospital, whilst Raf is a polarised opponent who spends much of the feature finding any reason to scream and shout.
Sympathy is found, however, in the character of Kim (Aïssatou Diallo Sagna, a real-life health care worker) forced to work with these obnoxious patients, in truly manic surroundings. The pressures on health care staff is perhaps the most effective angle explored in The Divide with Corsini successfully replicating the exhausting atmosphere and never-ending chaos in the world of public health care.
There are some effectively light comic notes rippling throughout The Divide. Bruni Tedeschi showcases herself as a master of quick-witted dialogue, yet also physical comedy – an x-ray sequence as the screaming woman is shunted about on moving machine is a masterclass in comic physicality.
Never a dull moment to be found, The Divide is a noisy and fast-paced glimpse into political polarity and those caught in the crossfire of such debates.