The Divide is an intense snapshot of one night in a French A&E department on the night of a yellow vests protest, juggling political and societal themes.
The Divide (La Fracture) begins with a woman called Raphaëlle – played by a wonderfully unrestrained Valeria Bruni Tedeschi (Anaïs in Love) – texting her long-term partner (perhaps soon-to-be ex) from bed in the middle of the night. The texts get more and more abusive, moving swiftly from hurt and sadness into pure anger and aggression. As it turns out, her partner is asleep in the bed next to her, and this barrage of texting ends with Raphaëlle screaming whilst Julie – Marina Foïs (Polisse) – batters her in the face with a pillow. It’s the perfect start to The Divide, setting the tone for what’s to come: a breathless, visceral film full of dramatic moments set amidst one of the most tumultuous nights in modern French history. The commentaries and themes are a lot to take in and whilst it never quite ignites into the incendiary satire it seems to want to be, The Divide is one hell of a histrionic trip.
As it turns out, Raphaëlle and Julie are on the verge of breaking up. Add in a teenage son who is off to the protest at the Champs-Élysées, and their day is not getting off to the best start. Raphaëlle’s fall and subsequent elbow injury whilst running after Julie in the street compounds the misery and moves both characters to the main setting of The Divide: an A&E department in a Parisian hospital during a night of protests by the yellow vests (a real group protesting regularly since 2018). Here, a whole tapestry of characters, small and large, come to the fore, from Aïssatou Diallo Sagna’s likeable nurse Kim to Pio Marmaï’s (Happening) protestor / truck driver Yann Caron, who is the pick-of-the-bunch both in terms of his acting and character. Over the next 80 minutes or so, ideological wars spark inside this pressure cooker atmosphere; it’s a genius set-up, with the hospital acting like a sort of medical, waiting room purgatory in the middle of a full-blown protest outside its wall, where all people can do is bicker and disagree.
But The Divide treats each character with a very straightforward empathy. It doesn’t mark anyone out as right or wrong, and consistently hones in on its central message: people are different and so are their views, and the most constructive way to understand others is through discussion, not shouting matches. Raphaëlle and Yann develop the most notable relationship, with the latter a left-wing voter who groups Yann into a generalised right-wing bracket, even wrongly assuming that he voted for Marine Le Pen. Catherine Corsini (An Impossible Love), who also directs, Agnès Feuvre (The Night Doctor) and Laurette Polmanss (Summertime) place value on the pair’s quieter discussions as well as their general compassion, forming a wonderful short-term relationship born out of situation.
The other relationships, debates and clashing ideologies never quite come to fruition in the same way. Perhaps inevitably for a film set in such a busy, hectic place as a hospital, The Divide ultimately has too many characters. The screenplay is working with a lot here, and most notably never fully forms into what it tries to be: a visceral, memorable, scathing satire. And yet The Divide is impressive as a snapshot of a tormented, unstable society, representing not just France but the current political climate around the world. The snappy editing and dynamic camerawork add to this breathless, dangerous atmosphere, and even when The Divide struggles to balance everything it’s trying to handle, it’s still dramatically impressive and always engaging.
And whilst the characters might not develop fully, their struggles all overlap and contribute to this sense of a broken system. At one point, the hospital ceiling literally collapses for no reason, a moment that would be quite on-the-nose if it wasn’t so believable. The Divide is accessible to everyone but for French people, it will likely hit home even harder. Amidst the turmoil, The Divide is also a rather special relationship drama: Julie and Raphaëlle’s turbulent partnership stands test after test – and frequently fails – but their love and passion still comes out, often begrudgingly from Julie. Their relationship mirrors the society that surrounds them, with its unstable and explosive atmosphere, but also in the way that when both of them take a step back and a deep breath and talk calmly, things seem to change for the better.
The Divide will be screened at the 2022 BFI Flare Film Festival on 25-27 March, 2022.