When a sexually obsessive affair begins, it can be all indulgent erotic bliss — for a little while. Eventually the outside world and its annoying circumstances impinge, and complicate things. So it goes in “Simple Passion,” the director Danielle Arbid’s adaptation of a book by the acclaimed French writer Annie Ernaux.
Hélène (Laetitia Dosch), a literature professor and single parent, and Alexandre (Sergei Polunin), a married, mildly thuggish employee at the Russian Embassy in France, discover a strong physical connection almost immediately. Their affinity is conveyed in energetic sex scenes that flood the screen with the intermingling flesh of the performers.
If their dialogue doesn’t immediately communicate that they see their affair in different ways, the soundtrack does. When Hélène’s dressing for a tryst we hear Gilbert Bécaud’s peppy pop tune “C’est Merveilleux L’Amour.” As Alexandre tools around in his high-powered car, we hear Suicide’s droney, doomy “Cheree.”
While keeping a stalwart female perspective, “Simple Passion” follows an arc so standard it could be called banal. The couple’s lack of compatibility outside of what the filmmaker Preston Sturges once called “Topic A” creates friction. Alexandre criticizes Hélène for wearing what he considers a too-tight skirt. Hélène commits the strategic error of proclaiming she loves him while they’re having sex. She also becomes so distracted that at one point she almost runs over her own child while backing up her car. That’s new, at least.
When Hélène flies to Moscow in pursuit of her lover, her wanderings on snowy streets are accompanied by Leonard Cohen’s “The Stranger Song.” The choice feels forced, like a stand-in for the dramatic work Arbid and company don’t pull off. Similarly, the picture’s resolution, with a voice-over relating the satisfactory conclusion of some kind of interior journey, is utterly unconvincing.
Not rated. In French, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 39 minutes. In theaters.