Love Songs

2007, Movie, NR, 95 mins

Review

LOVE SONGS | LES CHANSONS D'AMOUR
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After a string of interesting but never quite satisfying films, from the properly perverse adaptation of George Bataille's Ma Mere to the popular Nouvelle Vague homage DANS PARIS, attempts something really daring -- a modern-day musical set in Paris. The result is a bittersweet trifle one can conceivably fall in love with, and Honore's best film so far.

Young Parisian journalist Ismael (Louis Garrel) has found himself in a position many men his age would envy: His long-time, 28-year-old girlfriend Julie (Ludivine Sangier) has actually encouraged him to invite his beautiful co-worker, Alice (Clotilde Hesme), to join them in a menage-a-trois. Julie claims she likes threesomes, but her adventurousness masks a deeper unhappiness and dissatisfaction: Under the carefree surface, she knows life with Ismael is at a standstill, though neither are willing to admit it. Ismael has become a favorite of Julie's parents (Brigitte Rouan, Jean-Marie Winling), her younger sister Jasmine (Alice Butaud), and her older sister Jeanne (the marvelous Chiara Mastroianni) -- who's become involved with a married man -- but Julie suspects Ismael no longer really loves her and is too emotionally immature to do anything about it. She confronts him, he denies it but admits he's jealous of Alice, and before anything can be resolved tragedy strikes and suddenly Julie is gone. Time passes. Alice has moved on -- she's even found herself a new, Breton boyfriend, Gwendal (Yannick Renier) -- but Ismael clearly hasn't. Julie's family continues to embrace him like the son the never had, but Ismael finds their kindly grip suffocating and he grows increasingly depressed and unable to sleep. Jeanne has installed herself in the apartment he once shared with her sister and he's now being stalked in way by Gwendal's love-sick younger brother, Erwann (Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet), an idealistic young student who has yet to have his heart broken. But just when it seems as if all Ismael's exits are blocked, a wholly unexpected avenue opens up to lead him back into life, though in a slightly different direction.

Unlike the charmingly scrappy ONCE, Honore's musical isn't a latter-day backstage musical but an honest-to-God, burst-out-into-song-when-speech-is-no-longer-sufficient event that few filmmakers, other than iconoclasts like Lars Von Trier, Francois Ozon or Alain Resnais, have the guts to attempt. (And unlike its obvious reference point -- Jacques Demy's THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG -- it's strikingly realistic.) Honore has taken a handful of mostly pre-existing Franco-pop songs by composer Alex Beaupain and seamlessly woven them into his plot (although a few of Beaupain's lyrics sound a lot better sung in French than they read in subtitled English). Working quickly after the success of DANS PARIS, it's almost as if Honore hadn't the time to over-think the film he was making and wound up perfecting a natural style of his own. Ironically, after trying so hard in DANS PARIS, Honore effortlessly captures the footloose youthfulness and fancy-free sexuality of the early New Wave without any coy, slavish homage. Paris, too, is presented unadorned, and she looks divine. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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