Jakob and Lizzy, of love and sea water

Jakob and Lizzy, of love and sea water

Lizzy (Léa Seydoux) and Jakob (Gijs Naber), in


Half a century ago, in Europe, the public service (of television, in the West, of cinema, in the East) produced objects which resembled – from a distance – My Wife’s Storyliterary adaptation of a classic of hungarian literature signed Milan Füst, published in 1942: the story of the love that unites and separates a Dutch sea captain and a Parisian socialite.

Photographed with delicacy by the chief operator Marcell Rév, the reconstruction of the Mitteleuropa of the 1920s is exquisite but slightly offbeat, the adventures are shelled without haste by actors always right. To stick to this varnish would be to miss what makes the greatness of the film, whose coat of arms is plastered at the start of the story: shots of whales spinning under the waves on the surface of which Captain Jakob Störr sails (Gijs Naber).

What Ildiko Enyedi really films is what lies beneath – appearances, words, gestures and even deeds. Somewhere in the depths of the brief happiness and long misfortune of the captain, Jakob, and the socialite, Lizzy (Léa Seydoux), lie the root causes of the war between men and women. What was taken for a wise romance is in fact a martial, sensual and heartbreaking epic.

Huge inventiveness

To get rid of “the sailor’s disease”, Jakob, a bearded colossus who has kept something childish in his face and look, makes a bet with the con man Kodor (Sergio Rubini) that he will marry the first wife who will cross the threshold of the cafe where the two men are drinking. Kodor gone, Jakob heads for the chosen one’s table, which he has only seen from behind. Chance. When she turns her head, she has the face of Léa Seydoux. Lizzy is a radiant woman, whom nothing surprises, not even the marriage proposal that follows her meeting with the sailor a few seconds.

From her, we will not even know the surname of birth, even less what had led her to this port. But Jakob is a man who wants to understand and dominate what he loves. To this request, Lizzy responds laconically, with cryptic advice and observations that her husband struggles to decipher. The beauty of the film is largely due to the nobility of this effort. Gijs Naber, who is in almost every shot, hides nothing of his character’s flaws, but we will especially remember the almost infinite love he has for this woman whom chance has placed in his path. It’s all about the “almost”.

If Léa Seydoux jealously preserves the mystery of Lizzy, she hides nothing, neither of her love of life nor of her desire for freedom. She would like to be free to better love the man she has chosen. In addition to the quality of the cinematographic writing, of an immense inventiveness, it is the light brought by the actress on this story which makes the beauty of My Wife’s Story.

My Wife’s Story by Ildiko Enyedi. With Léa Seydoux, Gijs Naber, Louis Garrel, Sergio Rubini, Jasmine Trinca (Hong., Germany, 2022, 169 min).

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