Review: A hypnotic Vicky Krieps confronts mortality’s ticking clock in ‘More Than Ever’

A women looks over a scenic bay.
Vicky Krieps in the movie “More Than Ever.”
(Strand Releasing)
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In “More Than Ever,” a young woman’s response to the reality of her terminal illness is to discover a self she’s never known. That may sound like the stuff of a million weepies, but director and co-writer Emily Atef’s thoughtful character study, anchored by one of the current film landscape’s great actors, “Phantom Thread’s” Vicky Krieps, is to eschew sentimentality and foreground a search for a new, unexplored peace.

We meet Luxembourg-born Parisienne Hélène (Krieps) in front of a mirror in a state of short-breathed anguish, then vocalized distress, preparing to attend an unwelcome dinner party with her partner, Mathieu (Gaspard Ulliel). His attention is considerate, briefly quelling her anxiety, but the gathering with friends is an unbearable reminder that she is not like the others. Maybe nobody can see her idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis that is gradually reducing her lung capacity, but her mortality is very present, making her a guest people would rather ignore than deal with. Feeling humiliated, Hélène bolts.

The prospect of a double lung transplant (her only life-extending chance) doesn’t give Hélène hope or gratitude but rather suggests more pain and uncertainty. It’s an attitude that Mathieu, unwittingly centering his feelings over hers, increasingly feels disconnected from. So Hélène turns to the internet, warming to a Norwegian blogger called “Mister” with a sardonic view of his own life-threatening illness, a ban on banal “keep fighting” comments on his posts and photos of the stunning fjord in his backyard.


It’s to the supreme credit of Krieps, whose magnetism has only been enhanced by the movies she’s made since breaking out with “Phantom Thread” (“Bergman Island,” “Corsage”), that her presence implies that the movie will be whatever she wants to do — as if she’s not filling out a part but creating a story by sheer force of character. That’s certainly the vibe here when Hélène decides to leave for Norway, alone. Emboldened by her venture, she trusts that a potential connection with “Mister,” who turns out to be an older, understated host named Bent (an appealingly grizzled Bjørn Floberg), will free her from any notions of what her remaining time is supposed to look like. The next question, though, is whether Mathieu can accept that choice.

A man holds a photograph.
Gaspard Ulliel in the movie “More Than Ever.”
(Strand Releasing)

As sensitive as “More Than Ever” is, there’s a separate sorrow in that it carries Ulliel’s last film performance before the “Saint Laurent” star’s untimely death after a skiing accident in January 2022. Ironically playing a man faced with impermanence, he commandingly mixes fear and acceptance in portraying Mathieu’s floundering in the dark while his partner adapts to a crisply beautiful region’s endless light, becoming ever more luminous in the process.

Atef, who wrote the screenplay with Lars Hubrich, charts the central relationship with refreshingly clear eyes, preferring the interplay between faces and bodies to the directness of words. By the time Hélène and Mathieu cautiously reunite in her picturesque new environs, Krieps and Ulliel need little dialogue to play out the many complicated emotions of the last act: separation and calm, then sudden peril that segues into sensuality, and finally understanding.

Interludes of water imagery and the breaking surface of the ocean do their unspoken part, even if it’s become something of a filmic cliché in conveying someone’s between-worlds mind-set. Thankfully, Yves Cape’s cinematography is resplendent enough in capturing the transformative scenery to allow for the occasional impressionistic dollop of blue, tranquil gurgling. Jon Balke’s score is a spare accompaniment that knows when to italicize the unease and when to color in the serenity.

But really, though, this is Krieps’ show, another elegantly virtuosic, intelligent turn that, in this case, imbues sickness with dignity so that every strained grasp for breath feels like a victory for autonomy.


'More Than Ever'

In French, English and Norwegian, with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 2 hours, 3 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Monica, West Los Angeles