Home Video Hovel: We Won’t Grow Old Together, by David Bax
Maurice Pialat’s We Won’t Grow Old Together begins with a sequence that could be mistaken for genial, domestic comfort. A couple lies in bed. He’s half asleep while she gently mocks his apartment. Then they are both up and she is blow-drying her hair while he makes breakfast. He attempts to offer her something but keeps having to repeat himself over the noise of her dryer until, eventually, he just yells. They both laugh. It’s cute. Pialat has intentionally given us a false notion of this couple’s relationship so that, over the course of the first act, we only gradually come to realize the abusive and controlling truth of the man’s behavior.
He is Jean (Jean Yanne) and she is Catherine (Marlène Jobert). Jean is a married man whose wife, Françoise (Macha Méril), is little more than a polite acquaintance who is aware of and largely indifferent to the fact of Catherine, Jean’s mistress. We Won’t Grow Old Together traces years of their relationship but, in contrast to the fluffy romance tales that only depict courtship and laughs and love-making, Pialat only shows us the couple at its worst. We see Jean pout manipulatively and, when that fails, resort to physically manhandling Catherine. Occasionally, we see Catherine finally get fed up with Jean’s behavior and his insults and leave, only to be back in an hour or a week.
Yanne and Jobert are perfect. Both perform a sort of addition by subtraction with their characters, foregoing histrionics and other adornments in order to illustrate how routine this awfulness is for them. Sometimes it is up to the camera to disrupt the stasis, panning back and forth between them while he looses hateful arrows and she weathers them; the film understands that this is a battle even if the participants are too numb to notice.
As the story progresses, though, so does Catherine. As she locates her strength and grows apart from Jean, it would be easy for Pialat to revel in his protagonist’s comeuppance – in fact, We Won’t Grow Old Together would still be a decent film if he did. Instead, he makes us feel a bit bad for the son of a bitch. It’s the right choice. Jean would feed off of our hate but he deserves little more than our pity.
Special features include a video “appreciation” by director Alex Ross Perry; an interview with Jobert and a booklet containing an essay by critic Nick Pinkerton.