Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Mon Feb 11, 2008 1:32 pm 
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GREGOIRE LEPRINCE-RINGUET AND LOUIS GARREL IN LOVE SONGS

Sing away your sorrows

Forget Jacques Demy if you can—though one of Love Songs’ cast members is Chiara Mastroianni, daughter of the Catherine Deneuve of Demy’s classic Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Honoré’s Inside Paris/Dans Paris had one song written by Alex Beaupain, a duet between Romain Duris and Joana Preiss, sung over the phone, Duris’ delivery full of reedy sweetness. This time the director has fulfilled a long-cherished ambition and made a full-fledged contemporary musical. It's set in the relatively gritty Bastille section of Paris, and it's about a ménage à trois involving two girls and a boy: Ismael (Louis Garrel), Julie (Ludivine Sagnier), and Alice (Clotilde Hesme, Garrel's girlfriend in his father's Regular Lovers), whose life together leads to sorrow, separation, and resolution. Beaupain and Honoré have collaborated for the film on 14 songs. Les chansons d'amour is also the director's third collaboration with Louis Garrel, though he didn't plan it that way originally and Garrel had to convince him he could do a singing role. He could, and he is charming, as is pretty much everyone in this film. Love Songs definitely adds to the sense that Christophe Honoré is becoming one of the most promising of the younger French directors.

This quick follow-up to Dans Paris, which like it, but musically, portrays love problems, family loyalties, and depression with an intermittently light New Wave-ish touch, is divided into three sections: Departure, Absence, and Return. Julie seems to accept Alice in their bed to please Ismael, but she wants him to herself and regrets his refusal to have a child. Perhaps she’s imploding, because she drops dead in front of a boite, like River Phoenix in front of the Viper Club, but of natural causes.

Alice considers it only right to move out; she can't take the place of two women, and her bisexuality no longer protects her from the full onslaught of Ismael's (and Garrel's) impetuous charms. Ismael, whom Julie’s family adored, moves quickly, if shakily, forward, but Julie’s stagnant older sister Jeanne (Mastroiaani), who suffers from survivor guilt, keeps turning up (a little tiresomely) at the trio’s apartment. Alice had recently connected with another guy, a Breton musician named Gwendal (Yannick Renier, brother of Jérémie). She doesn't seem to need Gwendal any more either, but Gwendal’s gay lycée-student brother Erwann (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet of André Téchiné’s Strayed) conceives a passion for Ismael and begins stalking him. When Erwann keeps turning up, Alice, who works at the same office as Ismael, thinks this is an indirect effort on Gwendal’s part to get back together. Ismael realizes what Erwann’s up to, though, and at first laughs it off and tells him to get lost.

But Ismael’s lost himself—he’s half-Jewish and seems to represent the wandering, rootless type; we never see his family or hear of his origin in any detail—and though he may have the gift of good cheer, he doesn’t know where he’s going, even sexually. As the film ends, he’s actually settling into what's become both a romantic and a sexual affair with the determined Erwann (one of those young gay boys who knows exactly who he is and what he wants) and begs him, "Love me less, but longer" ("Aime moi moins fort, mais aime moi longtemps"--a line people remember). In the film's final shot the two young men are seen from a distance kissing on a balcony. Honoré's collaboration on the screenplay with queer auteur Gael Morel may explain this highly gay-friendly resolution, which will no doubt startle, if not offend, some members of the original Demy generation. But a ménage à trois without by or gay elements doesn't make much sense—not in this century, which Honoré, whatever his virtues and faults, firmly inhabits, even as he increasingly asserts his connectedness to French cinematic traditions.

American viewers aren't as likely to appreciate the many rhymes between French film families and traditions appreciatively noted by Jean-Baptiste Morain in Les Inrockuptibles last June when this film debuted in Paris ("Un drame musical enchanteur, un film gai et grave sur l’amour et l’absence. Sublime."). What they may grasp and enjoy is the buoyancy and speed of Honoré’s fimmaking, which makes a virtue of low-budget necessity. Harder to tune in to at times is the director’s cheerful way with sadness and depression, to be found here as it was in Dans Paris. Some of the songs may feel like wallowing in sorrow, but they’re better seen as singing the way out of it. Honoré lets the song come to you straight, without video-ready production numbers or irony, and the actors all do their own natural singing, only occasionally with a little trouble in the lip-synching of their pre-recorded voices.

Honoré hasn't yet done very well stateside; despite its neo-New Wave beauties, Inside Paris got only a so-so reception with US critics. Maybe the music will make Love Songs more accessible to Americans— it should. The romance between Garrel and Leprince-Ringuet should go down well with gay viewers; anyone open minded can respond to the warm depiction of a first love, and their kissing-in-bed song is already enshrined on YouTube with 18,000 hits. *

Love Songs/Chansons d'amour is part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series 2008 at Lincoln Center. US distributor IFC Films.
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*More in a later YouTube video, with English subtitles added HERE.

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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