Aug. 17, 2013
What If…? (or, Notre Univers
Impitoyable, its original French title) is a film which follows two
possible outcomes of one situation in which two lawyers who are dating compete
for the same position as partner in the firm. In one reality, the man (Victor,
played by Jocelyn Quivrin) gets the job; in the other, the woman (Margot,
played by Alice Taglioni) does. I love films that play with reality, and there
is something intriguing about being able to see how things might turn out if we
made different choices. We all wonder, “What if?” at certain points in our
lives. This film lets us play out one of those scenarios, if only vicariously.
This film might remind
you of another film that does a similar thing, Sliding Doors, with Gwyneth Paltrow and John Hannah. In that film,
we see the different outcomes of Helen’s life depending on whether she
makes the train or doesn’t.
In What If…? Victor
and Margot live together, but are not yet married. They’re running late for
their interviews, but decide to go together. Margot thinks about changing from
a skirt to pants, but as they’re already late, she doesn’t change, and off they
go. When they reach the building, they run up the stairs to beat the elevator
which contains those that will be conducting the interviews. In her rush,
Margot breaks the heel of her shoe and falls in front of the elevator door just
as it opens. Victor gets the job.
She thinks if she’d taken the time to switch into pants
and let Victor go ahead of her, she would have gotten the job. And then we see
this alternate series of events, in which she makes partner at the firm.
Doors, there’s nothing physical about them to distinguish the two realities
(at least not at first), so the switches back and forth are signaled with verbal
cues. For example, Margot-as-partner is upset because Victor wouldn’t make love
to her that night. She says on the phone, “If
they’d picked Victor, I’d have been happy. We’d have had a great party. We’d
have danced all night.” And then it cuts to them at the party. In this way,
it seems almost as if these two characters have some control over which reality
we see, as it is their verbal wishes that signal – if not create – the change.
This is one significant difference from the approach in Sliding Doors, in which it is definitely beyond the reach of Helen
to control the events.
Interestingly, we also
see how these events affect other characters in the film as well, including
Margot’s sister Juliette and Victor’s friend Bertrand. At the party in the
reality where Victor is partner, Juliette meets Bertrand when something is
accidentally spilled on his shirt, and they begin dating. Later there is a
great scene in the Margot-as-partner reality where Victor helps Bertrand meet a
woman, and Juliette suddenly shows up. So those two meet in both realities, but
in the Margot-as-partner reality Juliette doesn’t think much of him. (Juliette
ends up spilling on Bertrand in the Margot-as-partner reality, just as she did
in the Victor-as-partner reality, though with very different results.)
Margot (the Margot who is
not partner) later does cut her hair to help distinguish the two realities. And
Victor’s hair becomes slicker in the reality where he is partner. Though even
with these changes, we still get verbal cues when the switches occur. Margot
says to her sister, “If they’d picked me,
I wouldn’t have some mad cow yelling at me. I’d be at a business party, and
much more at home.” And we cut to a business party.
Interestingly, Margot seems
unhappy in both situations. What is also interesting is that in each reality,
whichever character gets the promotion becomes unfaithful to the other. So is
the idea that power does corrupt? Is in inevitable? Or are these people both
horrible at heart? Because they’re still the same people in each reality – it
is only their circumstances that have changed. Along the lines of power having
a corrupting effect, it’s worth noting that in each reality the boss tells whichever
person got the promotion that he or she was the one he insisted upon – so the
boss, who of course has the most power, is actually a constant in both
scenarios. His character remains the same.
There are a lot of great
shots and moments in the film. For example, at the beginning of the film, while
Margot, Juliette and Victor are discussing Juliette’s shoes, in the background
a man is dying of a heart attack (on the other side of a glass wall in the
office). It’s staged really well, with the dying man sort of in the middle of
the three, with Victor on the left and the two women on the right. And of
course it’s his death that sets everything in motion, for it’s his job that
Margot and Victor compete for. In the shot, he separates Victor and Margot, and
his death will end up causing rifts between them.
Then later in the Victor-as-partner reality, there is a
scene where Margot ends up getting coffee for everyone in an important meeting
when the secretary has disappeared. It’s a good moment when she gives Victor a
look, assuming his request that she get coffee to be a joke, and he gives her a
look that says please do this. I love when things are done like that without
dialogue. This film is able to do that a lot.
What If…? is scheduled to be released on September 3, 2013 through
First Run Features. The DVD has no special features.