A girl stands at the prow of a boat looking out to the line of the horizon, her white dress flapping in the wind. The Cold Genius, an aria by Henry Purcell plays, with the mournful lyrics “let me freeze again till death” echoing out over the water. In contrast, the girl is smiling. “Look at her,” her brother nods, “my sister’s pretty”. The struggles that surround being perceived as “pretty” are just one of director Maurice Pialat’s preoccupations in the French 1983 coming-of-age drama À Nos Amours.
The film’s protagonist, a Parisian teen called Suzanne, is played by 16-year-old Sandrine Bonnaire in her debut role, for which she won the César Award for Most Promising Actress in 1984. In Pialat’s tender exploration of obsession, family feuds, and growing pains, we follow the ups and downs of Suzanne’s adolescent experiments as she attempts to elude the chaos of her parent’s broken marriage, seeking solace in the arms of others. Her growing number of lovers becomes the safeguard that protects against destructive familial power. Pialat himself plays Suzanne’s intense and unnerving father, who wishes to control her sexual exploits, and soon Suzanne’s rebellious sexuality becomes a fraught family issue. Plus, as is so often the case when it comes to French cinema, it makes for an incredibly chic viewing experience. How could we not take note of its stylish teachings?
1. Cardigans are incredibly versatile
Buttoned, unbuttoned, draped or tied – with so many styling options available in one item of clothing it’s no wonder the cardigan is one of Suzanne’s signature pieces. Emulate the Parisian nonchalance of the film’s protagonist by throwing a baby-pink knit over your shoulder, or an eye-catching brick-red button-up layered over a muted grey T-shirt dress. The cardigan is also representative of a coquettish charm, symbolic of the last vestiges of Suzanne’s girlhood as she rebels against her parents and explores a newfound sexuality.
2. Imitation is the sincerest form of rebellion
Furs, pelts, and animal skins line the surfaces of Suzanne’s family flat throughout the film, and her father and brother work as tailors, running the business out of their home. As her character grows increasingly assertive, we see Suzanne don vibrant animal prints as a direct riposte to their trade. They are not the real thing, however – deftly demonstrating that in Suzanne’s case, imitation is the sincerest form of rebellion.
3. It’s good to have a healthy appetite
During a particularly notable scene involving food, Suzanne stands in a red leather skirt inelegantly devouring dinner with her friends. Spaghetti dangles from fingertips into open mouths, and a couple collapse into each other next to her, engaged in a passionate kiss. The parallels of sex and food are significant, drawing connotations between sexual appetite and hunger – both of which Suzanne possesses in abundance.
4. Earn your stripes
Unsurprisingly for a 1980s French drama, the breton striped top raises its head on numerous occasions in À Nos Amours. A red and white T-shirt with a matching denim skirt becomes the perfect combination in which to frolic through golden French fields; an asymmetric monochrome striped body a sartorial tool for seaside seduction. An undisputed wardrobe staple, follow Suzanne’s suit and stockpile stripes for next summer’s holiday fling.
5. You can’t choose your family, but you can choose your own destiny
“Whenever I meet a guy I think of my father,” Suzanne confesses to one lover. Her life is dominated by her family’s presence, and in her volatile home she is embraced and chastised in equal measure. By the end of the film, Suzanne is able to walk away from the cycles of violence the rest of her family are caught in, with her lightweight floral dress freely fluttering behind her. It’s true that you can’t choose your family, but you can choose your own destiny – and the outfit you meet it in.