March 2, 2010
The themes explored in Patrice Chéreau's probing, tightly constructed Persecution are prefigured in the film’s disorienting (and quintessentially Chéreau) opening sequence. Scanning from one anonymous commuter to another, a panhandler makes her way through a crowded train before someone makes inopportune eye contact, and she responds by slapping her face. The episode intrigues a bystander, Daniel (Romain Duris) and impulsively follows the shaken victim to the nearest exit, eager to uncover the non-verbal cues that had been exchanged in the moments before the heated encounter. In hindsight, this convergence of fixation, contact, rejection, and violence also consumes Daniel in his personal life. Hopping from one construction site to another working as a home remodeling contractor (which serves as his temporary residence as well), Daniel is searching for some permanence and constancy in his relationship with his distant, jet-setting girlfriend, Sonia (Charlotte Gainsbourg), but their interaction is often reduced to voice messages and chance meetings with mutual friends. Ironically, ever searching for ways to hold his Sonia’s attention, Daniel has only succeeded in capturing the interest of a lonely, middle-aged man (Jean-Hugues Anglade) who has begun to stalk him at his latest job site. Stitching together pieces of a seemingly rootless and unremarkable life as itinerant worker, nursing home volunteer, and insecure lover, Chéreau creates a lucid and provocative exposition on the ephemeral - and searing - nature of the search for human connection.