To Each, Her Own: one mess after another

Closeted lesbian grows up in oppressive religious household, denounces her faith and escapes to the bright lights of the city: we’ve all seen that movie. To Each, Her Own ー terrible title, by the way, but we’ll get to that ー focuses on the crises that come after. 

The main character in To Each, Her Own (Myriam Aziza, 2018), Simone, comes from an Orthodox Jewish family and lives with her “room-mate and best friend” (family code for lesbian lover) Claire. Just as she finally thinks she’s ready to come out to her family, she falls for the Sengalese chef at her favourite restaurant, Wali (a man). A novel and intriguing concept, of course, but where could it possibly lead? Well, as it turns out, both absolutely everywhere and resoundingly nowhere. Let’s get into this hot-mess-express of a shitshow movie, shall we?

Britney Line Time:Heart, I know I’ve been hard on you / I’m sorry for the things I’ve put you through

In all honesty, I’m not really sure what this film was trying to do, but I can say with a fair amount of confidence that, whatever that goal was, it was not achieved. The original French title makes a little more sense than its bizarre English equivalent: Les goûts et les couleurs (directly translated: The Tastes and the Colours) is the name of a restaurant Wali and Simone propose opening together. Wali, let’s not forget, is the man Simone “I thought I was a lesbian” Benloulou finds herself falling for. Before we get into all that, let’s investigate some of the film’s redeeming qualities.

Many parts of this film are deeply sensuous. Since Wali is a chef, food appears often, and it is seductively shot, with rich colours and close-ups of Simone eating. Food is also used in moments of temptation and desire in the budding relationship between Wali and Simone ー  both of their religious upbringings include some kind of dietary requirements (Halal and Kosher respectively), and so breaking these adds the tasty layer of sweet rebellion. The film is richly shot throughout, light, music and colour enhancing the sensuous experience.

Top Tip: If you watch the film, have something to eat or drink next to you. Gastronomy is an important theme, get into the spirit.

Despite its plot flaws, To Each, Her Own does hold some weight in terms of critical engagement, especially with regards to race. Racism in France is never addressed on a national level ー dual nationality is not allowed by law, so all citizens are French and nothing else. When there is only one race (French), how can there be racism? Of course, this reasoning is deeply flawed, but has manifested itself to such an extent that it is illegal to collect data on race (and therefore on racism) in France. Those who wish to comment on racism in France thus turn to the arts, here filmmaking.

To Each, Her Own is far from the first film to comment on racism in France, and also far from the best, but it does make some interesting points. The film shows how racism manifests itself in Jewish and Muslim families, dividing generations and pushing communities apart from within. Refreshingly, neither family is given space for a forgiveness storyline they don’t deserve.

Unfortunately, that’s about as much good as I can seem to find in this film. A few minutes of short consideration and you realise that it is based on a fundamentally flawed concept. Immediately, the film is treading a line to avoid the “reformed lesbian thanks to the right man” trope. As a queer film fanatic (obviously, look where you are), I was frustrated when, inevitably from the film’s byline, the lesbian storyline in a film about lesbians became secondary and mundane.

The film reads as two separate rom-coms happening simultaneously to the same character. And since Simone is with Claire at the start of the film, her story with Wali, in the early stages of attraction and excitement, takes precedence. We could have had some satisfaction if the narrative turned away from romance into a self-love story, but Simone is far too insecure and selfish for this to be realistic. The whole time watching I couldn’t help but think “this can’t be resolved well.”

Guess what? It wasn’t.

I can’t continue with my analysis without talking about the ending, so here’s your official spoiler warning. The dual rom-com scenarios continue to their logical conclusions right up until the last few minutes of the film. Both Wali and Claire confront Simone in front of her entire extended family at her very-Jewish brother’s very-Jewish wedding. When forced to make a choice between her two lovers, she wordlessly chooses both, and the three of them ride away on a motorbike.

Biggest Gay Mood: Standing alone in a waistcoat in the corner of a straight wedding, drinking champagne and judging everyone

In hindsight, with the storylines building up as they did, this was the only resolution that would have been possible, so why was the groundwork not set for it? It is as the filmmakers made the whole film already, forgot to write an ending, and then left themselves with only two minutes to make it all make sense.

Claire is clearly a lesbian, Wali is by all accounts straight, so how will this work? Neither have consented to this beforehand, and we are privy to no discussion either. The potential for a beautiful and complex relationship dynamic that we don’t often see in film (especially not in a Netflix rom-com) is wasted as a last resort punchline.

To Each, Her Own does have some things to say, but not all of them are worth listening to. With such deep-set plot issues, I struggled to connect with the story in any way, and thus, in trying to cover so much, it left me with pretty much nothing. 

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