‘The Divide’ Film Review: Catherine Corsini Tackles French Troubles With Gallows Humor

Cannes 2021: The film wrangles the country’s various cultural, racial and social tensions under one leaky roof

The Divide
Cannes Film Festival

Among its other sundry qualities, Catherine Corsini’s “The Divide” gives us the chance to reflect on a certain ontological question: What is the real nature of the Cannes Film Festival? 

Is it an international gathering held somewhat arbitrarily in the all-too-pleasant South of France, or a French event that opens itself up to the world? What needs does it serve, and to whom does the festival belong?

One would imagine Spike Lee and his eight fellow jurors might take up similar concerns when considering “The Divide,” which premiered in competition on Saturday and which, all equivocations aside, is a powerful film. But what gives the film such force could also limit its reach: the fact that “The Divide” (“La Fracture”) is so thoroughly, brazenly and inextricably tied to present-day France.

As if to wrangle the country’s various cultural, racial and social tensions under one leaky roof, “The Divide” takes place over the course one volatile night at an underfunded and short-staffed Paris hospital. (Oh, yeah – the country’s medical system isn’t doing too well either.)  In what has already been an awfully eventual day, riot police are in the midst of breaking up a yellow vest protest on one side of town, while black bloc protesters and far-right agitators are turning a racial justice march violent in another part of the city.

Caught between the two and drawing an ever-growing number of victims, the somewhat rickety hospital becomes a microcosm for the country, acting as a stage where these various conflicts can play out in miniature. Meanwhile, a number of real-life medical workers play smaller roles alongside leads Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Marina Fois and Pio Marmai to offer a greater degree of authenticity.

Entering the hospital with both a broken arm and an aching heart, Raf (Tedeschi) hopes to use the former to salve the latter as she tries to woo back her unhappy wife, Julie (Fois), who has decided to end things. For her part, Julie is more concerned about their teenage son, presently caught at the racial-justice rally as forces of state violence draw closer. Acting as foil to the unhappy couple is Yann (Marmai), a yellow vest-er with a leg full of shrapnel and an imperative need to drive his truck halfway across the country before his boss finds out that he drove it to Paris for the protest.  

Similar to 2019’s “Les Miserables,” “The Divide” evokes existing social pressures via a familiar film genre. While Ladj Ly’s Jury Prize winner took shape as a police thriller, Corsini prefers the comedic form. Appraising her country’s various ills with a healthy dose of Gallic gallows humor, the filmmaker has delivered a kind of screwball comedy full of physical gags, rat-a-tat dialogue and intricate choreography that veers towards a weightier third act while offering plenty of belly laughs along the way.

Thing is, so many of those jokes are predicated on existing knowledge of France’s current sorry state. Which helps fuel an open question that won’t resolve itself until the closing ceremony: How far can that approach travel?

Check out TheWrap’s digital Cannes magazine issue here. You can find all of TheWrap’s Cannes coverage here.

TheWrap Cannes issue cover


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