We’ve seen for you… State of the Union, ten minutes in the life of a couple

We’ve seen for you… State of the Union, ten minutes in the life of a couple

In just ten 10-minute episodes, each season of State of the Union beautifully explores the relationship of a couple in crisis.

C’est quoi, state of the union? A couple meets once a week to talk about marriage. Louise (Rosamund Pike) and Tom (Chris O’Dowd) consult a therapist to try to salvage their marriage, and before each session they have coffee together and discuss their life together, their children, their disagreements and what they get out of the Future expect session. Meanwhile, Scott (Brian Gleeson) and Ellen (Patricia Clarkson) (season 2) are in their 60s. They have overcome several marital crises, but with their children leaving home and nearing retirement, Ellen is considering divorce. Will their weekly discussions allow them to get along again? Can they take a step towards each other and save their marriage?

It’s a little treat, a small series that you can watch almost in one go with its almost ten-minute episodes. Aired on Sundance TV in 2019 and available on Arte.TV from May 5th state of the nation is really tasty. It must be said that the ingredients are already delicious, since in the casting we first see Rosamund Pike (Ex girlfriend) and Chris O’Dowd (The IT crowd), then Patricia Clarkson (sharp objects) and Brian Gleeson (Mr Mercedes) and none other than the writer Nick Hornby (Hi-Fi) to the screenplay and Stephen Frears (Dangerous liaisons, the queen) Behind the camera.

preamble ; a man and woman talk for about ten minutes in a coffee shop, cross the street to go to their therapist; Fade to black, end credits. Repeat the mechanic 10 times and you get state of the nation. The initial idea and structure are therefore of startling simplicity, and the exercise can seem dangerous: in the end, for a little over an hour and a half, we watch two people sitting at a table talking about their personal problems without the slightest embellishment. But the essence is not the what; that’s the how.

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state of the nation is both a small and a large series. Small because it therefore consists of very short episodes; as in In treatment, the action takes place in real time in a single closed location with only two characters. And a great series because it’s incredibly effective, full of charm and intelligence. Though American, it also has an undeniable meaning british – and not just because it was filmed in London.

Ten minutes in the life of Louise and Tom.

The whole thing is tender, fun and witty; also realistic and believable. We know the delicate and sensitive lyrics of Nick Hornby; Thanks to Stephen Frears, it takes on another dimension here. His staging manipulates the viewer as elegantly as it is sophisticated, without appearing to do so. A priori, the gaze is objective: we observe the couple or simply pass from one to the other. But if we analyze things more closely, we end up seeing how the viewer is influenced by camera movement or focusing on one protagonist or another, taking their own point of view or seeing their own point of view towards her.

Rosamund Pike and Chris O’Dowd work wonders in the first season, and it only takes them a few scenes to bring a touching depth and humanity to their characters. We immediately feel connected to Louise and Tom because we understand what they are thinking and what they are feeling. Little by little they lift the veil of their marriage through the engraved dialogues, often funny and always intelligent. Things are a little less fluid in the second season, where it takes longer to penetrate the intimacy of the couple played by Patricia Clarkson and Brian Gleeson, although again the two actors are excellent there.

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However, ten minutes seems very short and the episodes pass at full speed; However, the series makes the most of this time frame, giving its protagonists the opportunity to discuss a variety of topics, from the most mundane (Tom’s new haircut or the series Call the midwife) deep inside (sexuality in the couple or political opinions in the second season). Between clarity, brutal honesty, light irony and references to pop culture, their conversations gradually shape the story of their couple. They tire of each other, fight, break up, break up their alliance… but they love each other, find each other, forgive each other, try to put the pieces back together. Brief moments of sadness, happiness, resentment, complicity and love follow one another.

Ten Minutes in the Life of Ellen and Scott

From the opening scene of each season, we know what triggered the crisis the couple is going through, but these are just the symptoms of a deeper dysfunction that unfolds as episode-to-episode conversations progress. There’s something, an elusive magic, that irresistibly wants you to know what outrages beset these four, why their marriages have gone sour and whether, yes or no, they will choose to stay together. Which, let’s face it, isn’t obvious…

Two seasons of ten minutes by ten: That’s the time we spend with Louise and Tom, then with Ellen and Scott. Two couples in the midst of a marital crisis who are trying to find each other again thanks to therapy, but also thanks to these short conversations that we witness. The result is a fun and sensitive – if slightly frustrating – series. Because despite a final scene that wraps up the season perfectly, we’d like more. With Frears and Hornby, it’s crazy what you can say in ten minutes… but ten minutes, it’s crazy how fast it goes.

state of the nation (SundanceTV)
2 seasons – 20 episodes of approximately 10 minutes.
On Arte.TV from May 5th.