Published March 1, 1998
Post Coitum Animal Triste, directed by Brigitte Roüen, stars Miss Roüen herself as Diane, a publisher married to the decent but boring lawyer, Philippe (Patrick Chesnais). She suddenly falls passionately in love with the much younger Emilio (Boris Terral) — a hydraulic engineer who goes about doing good, bringing water to the third world. What follows is a memorable representation of amour fou in two phases, first exaggeratedly comic and then melodramatic. The comic scenes of exhilaration include one of Diane coasting on a cloud into a boutique to buy sexy lingerie — then setting the lingerie on fire by taking it off and dropping it on the lamp she and Emilio have overturned in their passion. There are several other images of fire that recur from time to time as analogues of passion.
At this stage, even Diane’s guilt at betraying her husband and children is expressed in comic terms. In the midst of a passionate coupling she cries: “I must get home.” Later we see her in bed with Philippe having coffee and croissants. The kids come in. It is apparently a scene of domestic happiness, but Mozart’s Don Giovanni, the story of an evil seducer who goes to hell, is playing in the background. In another such scene the musical accompaniment is Verdi’s “La donna e mobile” from Rigoletto — woman is fickle. Adding to the confusion are Diane’s attempts to wet-nurse François (Nils Tavernier), one of her firm’s authors, through a bad case of writer’s block as he tries to imagine a woman in love. “You don’t know what impotence is,” he says to Diane. No indeed!
When it all goes bad between Diane and Emilio, she responds by becoming more passionate than ever, and there is a kind of black humor in her desperation to win him back — scenes that are cringe-makingly familiar to anyone who has ever made a fool of himself for love. One appalling scene follows another until, one night, she staggers up the stairs to her apartment drunk, tearing her clothes off as she goes. At her door she falls unconscious into the arms of Philippe who says, “This should be against the Geneva Convention.” Philippe and the boys leave and Diane, in comic despair, goes completely to pot, staying in her filthy apartment for weeks, seeing no one, and drinking and smoking and writing on the walls.
Diane’s and Emilio’s story is cross cut with that of Madame LePluche, the baker’s wife living downstairs who, one day as she serves her husband the Sunday roast, stabs him in the neck with the carving fork and kills him. He has been having an affair, or a series of affairs, on her for 43 years and, when he announces that he wants a divorce, she finally cracks. With considerable irony Philippe gets the job of defending her in court for this crime passionelle while his own wife is having an affair — which he is gradually finding out about with the help of Madame LePluche’s methods of detection. At the climax of the film we see Philippe rehearsing his speech to the jury, in defense of Mme Lepluche’s passion. “Passion has its place,” he says, not without a sense of irony.
In the end, Diane is rescued by François, who manages to break through her isolation because, he says, he has been inspired by her to finish the novel, and by a pilgrimage to Greece where the Sappho’s legendary cure for love is self-administered. As in real life, I suppose, we are left with not very much more to say about the passion which has wrecked her life than that good old chick-flick bucker-upper of a message: “I will survive!”