Dir/scr: Hélène Fillieres. France-Belgium-Luxembourg. 2012. 80mins


Although the end result comes perilously close to being a parody of a certain kind of European art film in which troubled, isolated, individuals suffer in sleek settings reeking of affluence, the willowy, androgynous, French actress Hélène Fillieres makes an assured directing debut with Tied (Une Histoire d’amour).

Built from pared down formal episodes that happen to involve nudity, whips, restraints and weapons along with curt, predominantly nasty verbal exchanges, the mood is both commanding and uneasy.

This glacial fictionalisation of the true tale of an obscenely wealthy French banker who was wearing a form-fitting latex body suit when his mistress killed him - possibly at his own request - charts an S & M romance without so much as a homeopathic dose of backstory.

This take-it-or-leave-it approach will irritate some, but Benoit Poelvoorde and Laetitia Casta are occasionally brave and never less than intriguing as the transgressive couple known only as “The Banker” and “The Young Woman.”

The non-linear tale tackles a perverse, seemingly inevitable, sexual relationship played out in terminally tasteful settings that positively hiss bottomless wealth and considerable power. For whatever reason, The Banker derives sexual satisfaction from pain and for whatever reason, the Young Woman - who lives with a much older, maddeningly passive and frankly unattractive male known only as “The Husband” (Richard Bohringer, who also narrates) - agrees to administer it.

Truly rich people can’t assume they’re loved or desired for their inner selves any more than truly gorgeous people can. The narrator sets the tone by positing that “love stories are private planets that crumble and vanish when their inhabitants depart. They obey laws the rest of the universe knows not. Laws that even those concerned may not be aware of.” So there.

Built from pared down formal episodes that happen to involve nudity, whips, restraints and weapons along with curt, predominantly nasty verbal exchanges, the mood is both commanding and uneasy.  It’s a strange mix, as if Fillieres came across a blotter that had been in the corner of a repertory cinema showing versions of Crash, The Night Porter and In The Realm Of The Senses directed by the layout people at Vogue and sprinkled some of its vintage molecules onto the script she adapted from Régis Jauffret’s’s novel Severe

Tied is modest compared to the aformentioned films, but shares with them the notion that no viewer has a clue what any given couple are thinking or feeling even when provided a ringside seat from which to observe the sexual paces they put each other through.  Some crave tenderness, some thrive on  physical abuse. Go figure.

What money can buy is everywhere, yet cash is never seen.  At one point The Banker promises The Young Woman a $1million and seems to offer marriage into the bargain. As a result, a new kind of pain seeps into their relationship. Can words hurt more than the accoutrements of consensual torture?

At intervals throughout the brief 80-minute running time, The Young Woman is seen aboard a long flight from Australia back to Europe. Her unnamed seatmate, a pleasant fellow closer to her own age than the men she’s tangled up with, is played by Reda Kateb, seen of late as the detainee so vividly subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques” in the opening reels of Zero Dark Thirty.

And to think that The Banker would probably have loved such harrowing mistreatment if meted out by The Young Woman rather than the CIA…

Production companies: Albertine Productions, Samsa Film, Entre Chien et Loup, Arte France Cinema

International sales: Wild Bunch, www.wildbunch.biz

Producers: Matthieu Tarot, Jani Thitges 

Cinematography: Christophe Beaucarne

Editor: Philippe Bourgueil Production designer: Veronique Sacrez

Music: Etienne Daho

Website: www.unehistoiredamour-lefilm.com

Main cast: Benoit Poelvoorde, Laetitia Casta, Richard Bohringer, Reda Kateb, Jean-François Stevenin, Philippe Nahon