There’s a sadness which permeates Emily Atef’s More Than Ever (Plus que jamais), the final feature starring late French cinematic talent Gaspard Ulliel. Not only his final completed work, but one of an emotional subject matter as it explores an individual coming to terms with their premature death. Tackling themes of reflection, mortality, and isolation More Than Ever is a quiet, beautifully shot work anchored by poised turns from Ulliel and Vicky Krieps.
Penned by Emily Atef and Lars Hubrich, More Than Ever centres on Hélène (Krieps) and Mathieu (Ulliel), a couple who have been happy together for many years. The bond between them is deep but challenged when Hélène is faced with a truly existential decision. Faced with a terminal illness, Hélène travels alone to Norway to seek peace in her final moments, an act that will test the strength of their love.
Opening with Hélène and Mathieu preparing for a dinner party – Mathieu aiding Hélène in the application of her make-up. Whilst their friends laugh and engage in frivolous conversation, the disengaged Hélène struggles to feign interest. The full extent of Hélène’s inner battle is revealed as More Than Ever progresses, delving into the debilitating effects of her terminal illness and the couple’s complex and emotionally-taut journey into understanding how to navigate their uncertain future.
More Than Ever explores the polarising paths of Hélène and Mathieu, with their respective struggles taking shape in very different ways – yet Atef’s emotionally complex narrative allowing the strength of the couple’s bond to shine through. Mathieu, whilst supportive and a unflinching companion to his partner, seeks brief escape in clubs with cigarettes and alcohol; Hélène seeks quiet and solace, turning to isolation as a means of coping with her diagnosis. This quest for serenity further comes to light as Hélène makes the decision to spend her final moments in a secluded Norwegian lakeside cabin.
As More Than Ever shifts from urban France, cinematographer Yves Cape captures an ethereal beauty in the rural Norwegian landscape. A peaceful and picturesque setting for Hélène, yet one that does not mask her health problems – with Atef capturing the sad realities of Hélène’s illness even in the striking setting. Mathieu’s arrival in this setting brings some of the film’s most poignant and romantic moments, with the picturesque locale heightening the sense of finality in the couple’s touching shared experiences here. A lingering love scene lends a further poignancy, whilst More Than Ever’s final shot is unlikely to leave a dry eye in the audience.
More Than Ever excels in capturing the melting pot of emotions of its protagonists – the selfishness that death can bring, a pre-emptive feeling of grief associated with terminal illness, and the sense of isolation of loss and death. Beautifully poised performances from Krieps and Ulliel capture this with a maturity, complexity and quiet power.
More Than Ever is not an easy watch, but its exploration of love, loss and death is captured with an impressive poignancy and emotional intelligence. Cinematography from Yves Cape, stellar turns from Krieps and Ulliel tug at the heartstrings, and quietly impactful storytelling from Atef ensure More Than Ever is a rewarding piece and a clear cinematic highlight of the year.
More Than Ever will open in cinemas across the UK & Ireland on Friday 20th January 2023