Acclaimed French film star Virginie Efira exposed the absence of legislation against coercive control in France while promoting the new Valérie Donzelli film Just The Two of Us (L’Amour et les Forêts) at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival.
Efira explained that while France criminalized psychological violence in 2010, the French Criminal Code fails to provide unambiguous legislation to protect people who are targets for coercive control. There is little to no understanding that coercive control is the context in which domestic violence occurs. Moreover, it is a precursor of femicide.
She told France 24:
“Today there is no legal discussion [in France] about the term coercive control. You cannot be criminally charged for it. But it has been extracted from the language of the Freudians, psychoanalysts, and psychology, to explain that sometimes people are not aware of what they are going through. The film emphasizes psychological violence.”
The French epidemic of domestic violence is decidedly gendered, as women aged 18 to 60 represent 90% of the victims. 1 in 10 women in France has experienced domestic violence, with psychological aggression being the most common strain. Moreover, French society is failing victims to such an extent that femicide occurs with alarming regularity, claiming a woman’s life every 2 to 3 days.
Challenging the Culture of Silence
In the film Blanche (Efira) falls in fast, frantic love with the charming and captivating Grégoire (Melvil Poupaud). The couple move in together and marry in rapid succession. However, the increasingly manipulative Grégoire orchestrates Blanche’s insolation from her loved ones as their relationship follows an eery pattern of abusive power and control. The César nominee summed up her part in the film succinctly:
“I play two roles – twin sisters, Blanche and Rose. Blanche finds herself in the throes of a great love that soon becomes a great hell.”
Just The Two of Us (L’Amour et les Forêts) is a cinematic illustration of how the cycle of abusive power and control can play out in intimate partner relationships. By educating the public about the behaviors that characterize this type of aggression, the film seeks to disrupt the culture of silence surrounding coercive control in France.
Portraying the Dynamics of Coercive Control
Shooting the scenes was a deeply intense experience, and Eifra discussed the essential role of trust among herself, her co-star, and the director. It was this trust that allowed them to authentically capture the chilling reality of coercive control on screen, bringing the harrowing nature of the subject matter to life. She explains:
“I know Melvil Poupaud well. I know his kindness, his sensitivity in life, [and] this ensured that there was no [actual] abuse.”
Nevertheless, Poupaud was able to capture and embody the shame-based nature of coercive control perpetrators, who project their vulnerabilities onto their victims and degrade them as a misguided way of resolving their inner turmoil.
Emphasizing the Strength of Coercive Control Survivors
Efira highlights the crucial need to dispel the myth that domestic violence victims are inherently weak. She stresses that anyone, regardless of their confidence or emotional well-being, can become a target. She kept this in mind when portraying Blanche, as she immersed herself in understanding the complexities of her role:
“I play on her robustness and strength. Even if you are strong, solid, active, and so on, [someone] can still end up dominating you.”
Just The Two of Us (L’Amour et les Forêts) takes an informed approach to depicting coercive control on the silver screen. Efira’s performance seeks to dispel the myth of the helpless victim and reveal how rigid cherchez la femme biases can be the undoing of any woman. The film courageously challenges prevailing misconceptions and invites viewers to reexamine their understanding of domestic violence through the lens of coercive control.
Just The Two of Us (L’Amour et les Forêts) is a film adaptation of Éric Reinhardt’s eponymous novel. The movie premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on 24 May 2023 and is currently showing in cinemas.
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