Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 11, 2021 8:05 pm 
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This noirish drama never quite acquires a pulse

Nicole Garcia has 97 acting credits and 11 directorial ones. Of the latter I've only seen four. She seems to go for convoluted plots that draw you in even when they're not working. But they don't always work, and this one really doesn't - so little, in fact, that its decor is more interesting than its people.

Amants states its subject clearly enough. It's dark, "painterly," but also may be "marred by a silly script" as Xan Brooks wrote from Venice in the Guardian . Its noirish plot bears little connection to ordinary reality. But where was that ever a problem in the movies? Variety isn't wholly wrong to say it's "lackluster" but Jordan Mintser has a point too. In his Hollywood Reporter review he hypes Lovers as a "good ol' fashioned doomed romance." He points to its "eye-popping exotic locations," its "traffic-stopping cast," and lists its "lavish wines, great catering, guns, drugs, sex and lies." He says Garcia "delivers the genre’s essential items" in a "slick film noir throwback" that's "carried by" three "strong performances." Is this true? Ba, oui et non. All the nice accoutrements are there, but the characters leave much to be desired. Accomplishments aren't up to aims here.

Watching a Nicole Garcia plot line unfold, one must be willing to go with the flow. Pay patient attention as the hefty love sequence is followed by some discreet drug dealing. The girlfriend, LIsa (Stacy Martin of Nymphomaniac), is a hotel-school student, so there are scenes of fussing over table-settings for a fancy restaurant and napkin-folds with three long thin ears poking up. Simon (Pierre Niney) is at a bar and it's amusing to find Grégoire Colin cast as Niney's older brother, Paul, which works very well: they have the same long nose. The allusion to Claire Denis is appreciated.

But are the young lovers well-cast? It's sexier to see Lisa and Simon, he bare-chested, watch an old American noir movie on a screen occupying a whole wall, than having sex, always shot in monochrome and in the missionary position, cut short by the editor; or dining with Simon's doomed rich client in his multi storey parents' house, which appears to have a Vermeer upstairs. A lot of this is, pace Mintzer, about posh decor. That, and the artwork, satisfy: but decor isn't enough to make a movie.

The film is in chapters: Paris, the south seas, Geneva. It moves rapidly at first to separate the hot young lovers so that, three years later, they will renew their passion - on an island in the Indian Ocean - despite Lisa now being married to the rich owner of an international insurance business, Leo (Benoît Magimel), who began pursuing her when she became a hat check girl after Simon fled the country and lost touch with her and in her despondency she let herself get kicked out of hotel school. Lumpish, somewhat sullen, but basically a decent man, Leo is someone the rather emotionless Lisa can't give up even though she's drawn to Simon when he magically turns up at the Madagascar hotel stacking surfboards and handling day trips. Things are left unresolved between Simon and Lisa when they're back in touch reunited. The writing is vague, but Niney and Martin also decidedly continue to lack chemistry. Niney is cool looking and soulful, with his long face, sharp features, and lean body that makes him look taller than he is. But he's not sexy. Stacy Martin simply seems wan, sad, and absent.

So, on to another chapter. Geneva is where Leo has a big house, enjoys fancy Japanese whisky, and continues to toy with adopting a child, but mind you, he can't have one with a deformed foot. (Does that make him a bad guy?) Surprise: Simon turns up again. This movie, apart from rich lifestyles, is most clearly into catering, hotels, and personal service, and before you know it Lisa has persuaded her young lover, who's by now acquired culinary skills, to come and cook a big line-caught sea bass in an Oceania recipe for her husband, who, most appreciative, impulsively hires him as his driver for a hasty trip to Zurich.

It is now clear where this is going, if you pay any attention to noir crime film rules. Simon is getting closer and closer to the person he wants out of the a way. While the action that follows goes against expectations, it hasn't the fun twists of a neo-noir. The writing simply lacks the punch and clarity of that genre. Furthermore, the two young lovers never acquire the minimum necessary level of appeal and edge. It is not good that the old guy, the bourgeois fat cat husband, should be the most interesting character, especially given that Magimel's part is so underwritten.

Jonathan Romney in Screen Daily is cruel but to the point. He notes how right at the start the generic title points to lack of imagination. I don't know that he's right to fault the lack of significant black or Asian characters. Surely that is part of the point? But he is right on the mark in calling this a "lugubrious essay in lifestyle melodrama" and thinking it "irredeemably dated and listless." Alas, the world will little note nor long remember this Nicole Garcia film.

Lovers/Amants, 103 mins., debuted at Venice Sept. 3, 2020 and was part of Toronto (Industry Selects) Sept. 14. Screened online at home for this review as part of the Film at Lincoln Center-UniFrance Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, Mar.11, 2021.


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