Viewing your Watchlist and recommended content requires Javascript

  • 18
  • Drama, Romance
  • 1980
  • 105 mins




All play and no work means never a dull moment for bored bourgeois Nelly and ex-con Loulou. Isabelle Huppert and Gérard Depardieu star in director Maurice Pialat's drama about love, sex and class


Bourgeois Nelly (Huppert) seeks refuge from her violently jealous partner and boss André (Marchand) in the arms of unemployed ex-con Loulou (Depardieu). A one-night-stand quickly turns into something more serious, and Nelly moves in with her new lover.

Sex with Loulou is great, life is never boring in his extended demi-monde of drinkers, idlers and petty criminals, and at first Nelly does not mind being the one who pays all the bills while her work-shy partner stays at home. But when she falls pregnant, all the tensions in their relationship rise to the surface, as it becomes unclear whether Loulou will ever be more than Nelly's bit of rough, or indeed whether she wants him to be more.

With its love-triangle story arc, its heavy consumption of food, wine and Gitanes, its frankness about sex, and the presence of Gallic big-hitters Gérard Depardieu and Isabelle Huppert, Maurice Pialat's Loulou may be the quintessential French film, but it is nonetheless concerned with that most British of obsessions, class.

In the Paris of the late 1970s, where the traditional tradesman's stores are giving way to trendy bistros, Nelly turns her back on the culture, sophistication and impotent ennui that André embodies for the more authentic passion and simplicity of life with Loulou - a life spent in the bar, in the street and in bed.

Yet for all Nelly's claims to take Loulou as he is rather than wishing to change him, it is at her instigation (and expense) that they move from his squalid squat (complete with a bed that collapses mid-coitus) to a hotel room, and thereafter to a rented apartment that they furnish themselves, in a sign of their increasing domesticity and upward mobility. André, still mooning over Nelly, seems headed in the opposite direction, no longer keeping his own flat tidy and expressing the desire to move into something smaller like Nelly's new "love-nest".

Far from being a riff on the revolutionary power of a love that transcends all social boundaries, Loulou instead concludes on a more ambivalent note, with Nelly preferring to take Loulou right back to where they started than to move on with him to a future of change. Loulou had earlier told his brother Pierrot (Boucher) that women can "trap" men with marriage and children. In fact Nelly traps Loulou just as effectively using the constraints of his class. She has escaped André's possessiveness, only to reposition herself as Loulou's provider and controller in a relationship that is every bit as unequal. Viewers are left to wonder how long Nelly and Loulou will continue lurching drunkenly down that same dark street together.

Similar to the Dardenne brothers' L'Enfant (2005) not only in its low-life themes but also in its blend of naturalism and symbolism, Loulou allows the dynamics of its characters to emerge over time in a loose narrative structure where incident takes a back seat to casual observation.

Pialat's raw, somewhat cruel view of humanity is matched by the handheld camerawork, and offers little room for cliché (apart from one scene where a lovelorn André is shown playing a blue lilt on his saxophone). If the film is a little meandering in its plot, there is ample compensation in the performances, with Depardieu winning sympathy for his character (essentially an alcoholic, womanising layabout) by imbuing him with an almost childlike charm, while Huppert somehow makes her Nelly seem both ordinary and inscrutable at the same time.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Humbert Balsan, Gérard Depardieu, Christian Boucher, Guy Marchand, Bernard Tronczak, Frederique Cerbonnet, Isabelle Huppert
  • Director: Maurice Pialat
  • Screen Writer: Maurice Pialat, Arlette Langmann
  • Producer: Yves Gasser, Klaus Hellwig
  • Photographer: Pierre-William Glenn, Jacques Loiseleux
  • Composer: Philippe Sarde

In a nutshell

This examination of class, love and sexual politics is full of nuanced observations of character, even as its narrative staggers and reels like a drunk negotiating a dark road.

by Anton Bitel

Latest from Film4...

  • Film4

    Carry On Jack

    Bernard Cribbins, Juliet Mills and Kenneth Williams star in Gerard Thomas's 19th-century high-seas romp, the first of the Carry On comedies to adopt period costume.

    On Film4: 23 Mar 5:05PM

  • Film4

    Sherlock Holmes And The Secret Weapon

    Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce and Lionel Atwill star in director Roy William Neill's Second World War spy adventure.

  • Film4

    Youth on Film4

    Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel and Rachel Weisz star in Film4s first play of Youth, from acclaimed director Paolo Sorrentino

  • Film4

    Young Adult on Film4

    Charlize Theron and Patrick Wilson star in Young Adult, playing on Film4 for the first time.

Register with

Personalise your Film4 experience

  • Set film reminders
  • Build your watchlist
  • Get film suggestions

or Register