Love is a powerful force that can light up our lives—or break our hearts. Each story unfolds uniquely: some manifest as short-lived teenage infatuations, others are passionate escapades and some develop into long-lasting connections.  

Filmmaker Chloé Barreau understands the many facets of love. From the age of 16, she has captured her romantic relationships in videos, photographs and letters during her travels between Paris and Rome.

In her documentary, Fragments of a Life Loved, Barreau invites each of her ex-lovers to share memories of their relationship through intimate, first-hand accounts. This approach offers a fresh and captivating perspective on love–one that’s rarely seen. 

Through the voices of her ex-partners, a picture is painted of what it means to fall in love and lose someone. The tale teaches us that every relationship leaves a mark and, most importantly, there are always two sides to a story. 

Fragments of a Life Loved had its international premiere at Hot Docs this week, and Barreau and I connected on this story of love, its unique storytelling, and its worldwide reception.

Can you tell me about the conception of the film? What brought about the idea?

There are not many documentaries about love, which always made me wonder “why?”. It’s a very important part of our lives and a central theme in cinema. Lovers are a big part of my life. I had many different stories of men and women in France and Italy. I gathered photographs and films, because I would record them. With this huge amount of images and archives of home-based footage, I didn’t want to do an autobiography—I would ask my past lovers about their versions of their stories. 

I always wondered how the people I was with would describe the same story. It is a bit of a taboo and something one doesn’t normally do. However, I knew it would be interesting to have different people come together to talk about someone they had in common, which was me. 

When did you decide to start this project?

It was after a bad breakup. I was really devastated after I thought it would last forever. I was hurting in that moment. I find that a moment of sadness presents a perfect time to write. Also, I was in the middle of my 40s, which is when you think about your past to make sense of what you are. 

How did you decide on what format works best to tell this story?

I wanted to remain off-screen. It’s not really about me, but rather all the collective experiences of love, breakups and even being cheated on. Having all these people talk about me in the third person allows the viewers to see the storytelling like a novel. The experiences are real but the way we tell the stories involves narrative, editing, and dramaturgy to make it entertaining to the viewers.

Love is at the centre of this project. How has your understanding of love evolved across your life?

Love is a great way to discover oneself. The way you go through different relationships like passionate relationships, friends with benefits, and long distances all exist within the same love. In the end, it’s always the same story. That’s why the public is receptive to it cause they see themselves in all these situations. 

What was it like to revisit these relationships? Did listening to the accounts of your exes lead you to see yourself in a different light?

It’s interesting, because we do not remember the same thing and there were different accounts of the relationships. It was surprising, overwhelming, moving, and even embarrassing. I come across many times as a “ bad person”. This did not matter cause their versions were more important. As a filmmaker, I knew it was essential to have criticisms and conflicts. Sometimes they would say things that were not great about me but it was interesting to make many discoveries and learn things that I did not get at that time. It has been a good self-discovery journey. 

It was really incredible to know you leave a part of your essence with people. Even though some people did not talk to me for 25 years…there was definitely a point in their lives where they had loved me. Love never ends even when a relationship does.

What was your approach to helping your ex-partners safely express their feelings?

The film is low-budget, but this was great because I wanted a simple execution. Basically, the person will be interviewed at their place with only one camera. It was only the camera operator and the interviewer. It was very simple and discreet for them to feel intimate and comfortable.

What was the reception like at the Venice Film Festival?

It was an honour to open the film at the Venice Film Festival. Some of my past lovers came and some of them knew each other. They would make fun of me together. There was a great word of mouth in Italy about this film. Men and women, old and young were receptive to the film. 

The beautiful surprise for me is the success among the young people, especially in reviews like Letterboxd. I was surprised cause I am almost fifty and describe a world in the film that no longer exists, where we expressed love with love letters, answering machines, and making appointments to meet before the digital era.

What do you hope people will take away from Fragments of a Life Loved?

I hope it is universal even though it is in French and Italian and involves my peculiar journey of being with men and women. However, I hope people recognize themselves in one or more stories. I hope it makes people reach back to someone they have not spoken to in years and possibly get peace.