Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 21, 2011 1:45 pm 
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What Love May Bring/Ces amours-là is described in UniFrance's" Rendez-Vous with French Cinema" blurb as "an inimitable romantic epic" in which "a woman reflects on her turbulent youth and all the men she has ever loved in her life," a film "which Lelouch calls 'a remake of my 41 films,' spanning decades in the life of a cinema usherette." And it has "cameos from Belmondo et al." Definitely et al. And al. and al. and al. Though it's a fiction, it tends to blend in the mind into Lelouch's recent self-documentary (also a UniFrance, FSLC "Rendez-Vous" selection). That "et al." also means a run-through at the end of shots of the faces of some of the dozens of movie stars who have appeared in Lelouch's films -- a self-indulgence that made more sense in the documentary than in this fiction feature. But Lelouch is a character here too, played by a young man who looks a lot like him, and it's finally hard to separate the plot from the filmography, the reminiscences from the fiction.

Well, Ces amours-là (I like the French title better, though I can't translate it) is a fantasmagoric, preposterously complicated saga about generations and France in World War II and filmmaking, and love, and Americans and Germans, and practically everything else Claude Lelouch could think of. This is an awesome mash-up, whose use of music and image is a continual pleasure. But the trouble is that the material reads very much like Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds -- and the comparison is not good for Lelouch. His version lacks the excruciatingly suspenseful scenes, the absurd humor, the gruesomeness, and the dramatic finale; and not only that: when you compare the two films Tarantino's has the better production values and the more striking scenes. Not for lack of trying on the French director's part. Lelouch gives us a land-rush in the American West, World War II combat sequences, explosions in a cinema, and lots of period scenes staged in Paris, as well as a love affair with a Nazi officer, scenes at the Blue Angel, the legendary nightclub he happened to have managed, and sequences of Jews being sent off in freight cars. But it's all standard issue, the quality of the production evidently suffering from budgetary cuts and shooting of a lot of the material in Romania's MediaPro Studios. Moreover, the Jewish deportation sequences are in very dubious taste. Like Benigni's overrated Life Is Beautiful, they turn the Holocaust into material for a musical. A scene in a freight car actually shows an actress rehearsing Cocteau's La voix humaine (and she has a telephone), and is applauded by the smiling deportees, who are on their way to a concentration camp.

The camps are otherwise represented by a character who survives by playing Rachmaninoff for the Nazi supervisors. The strains of Rachmaninoff are heard on and off for some time as a link with other scenes from a couple of other story lines, and all we see is the guy playing the piano, in a prison cap. A final concentration camp scene has a man singing a Charles Trenet song, in premature celebration of liberation, which gets him shot, but not before his smiling fellow prisoners applaud him. Of course you can't take What Love May Bring seriously, and maybe you're not supposed to. But somehow you have to take the Holocaust seriously. Camping up World War II is a tricky business, which Tarantino can handle (though not in the opinion of everyone), but Lelouch cannot. When he does it here, it's just jarring, incomprehensible, and bad taste.

LIke the heroine of Basterds, Ilva (Audrey Dana of Welcome), the bed-hopping narrator, works in a movie theater. And it gets partially blown up, with a mystery surrounding this event. It's hard to keep track of Ilva's "loves," except for one case where they're color-coded. One storyline has Jim Singer, "the richest man in the world," a young white American working as a war journalist, dropped into France along with Bob Kane, a black prizefighter, who's become a Paratrooper and who saves the rich boy's life. Bob Kane is played by Jacky Ido, who was in Inglourious Basterds. Jim Singer is played by the charismatic Gilles Lemaire, who was in Lelouch's much more successful and much simpler 2007 Roman de Gare. Another lapse of taste has Jim and Bob having sex in bed with Ilva, and a silly business about her choosing between them for a husband. They're inseparable -- Bob and Jim, Jules et Jim, get it?

Jim and Bob are appealing enough, but many of the actors are mediocre, or wasted. Dana may be a current pet of Lelouch, but she lacks the gloss needed for a protagonist with many lovers. As Ilva's first and last love, singer Raphaël is sexy but Laurent Couson, as Simon, the pianist/lawyer, is not memorable. French reviewers were pained by Liane Foly as a Piaf knockoff. Even the excellent Dominique Pichon, memorable in Roman de Gare, isn't, here. The value of working Anouk Aimée and other Lelouch idols into the stew is obscure. If only Lelouch could forget his obsessions, give them a rest, and make a simple little film again.

There are plenty of enjoyable little moments, but they are wasted. There's some nice linking of scenes and interweaving of stories with linking music that could be models of how to make a film, if they were only part of a manageable scenario. You can have a good time watching this movie but only up to a point.

Ces amours-là opened in Paris September 10 and did not receive good reviews, particularly not from the more prestigious venues such as Figaroscope, Le Monde, L'Express, Le Nouvel Observateur; Cahiers du Cinéma and Les Inrockuptibles did not cover it.

Seen and reviewed as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema presented March 3-14, 2011 by UniFrance and the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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