Film-Forward Review: LOVE SONGS

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Louis Garrel as Ismaël
Ludivine Sagnier as Julie
Photo: IFC Films/Red Envelope Entertainment

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Written & Directed by Christophe Honoré
Produced by Paulo Branco
Director of Photography, Rémy Chevrin
Edited by Chantal Hymans
Music & lyrics by Alex Beaupain
Released by IFC Films/Red Envelope Entertainment
Language: French with English subtitles
France. 95 minutes. Not Rated
With Louis Garrel, Ludivine Sagnier, Chiara Mastroianni, Clotilde Hesme, Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet & Brigitte Roüan

In Love Songs, writer/director Christophe Honoré continues his infatuation with the French New Wave that he already lovingly saluted in Dans Paris. He proffers a more extended tribute to some of the same movies and any others he left out.

The ménage à trois from François Truffaut’s Jules and Jim now has the twist of two beautiful women in bed with a handsome young man – the writer Ismaël (Louis Garrel at his most irresistibly charming) with Julie (Ludivine Sagnier, maturing since playing the nymphet in Swimming Pool) and Alice (Clotilde Hesme, who paired with Garrel in Regular Lovers). The musical focus on romantic love is matched by touching scenes with Julie’s parents and sister Jeanne (Chiara Mastroianni). But it is primarily the tragic loss of love in Ismaël’s life that forms the basis for the three acts – “The Departure,” “The Absence,” and “The Return.”

Even when coming back as a ghost, the characters can’t help but burst into song when expressing or weeping over love, especially out on streets of the 10th arrondissement so beautifully photographed by Rémy Chevrin. Alex Beaupain’s songs, evocative of ‘60s French pop, are sung like a recitative, so it is a surprise that only three were written expressly for the film. The lyrics quote Sondheim (“Send in the clowns!) among the many movie and musical references.

Sweetly playing on stereotypes of the French as obsessed with romance, or at least playing on Jacques Demy’s romantic movie musicals The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort that starred Mastroianni’s mother Catherine Deneuve, love is endlessly discussed and broadly embraced. Like a musical production of Beaumarchais’ The Marriage of Figaro, naïve college student Erwann (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet) is identical in spirit to the love-struck Chérubin. The twist – he is mad for men, whether the object of his affection might be straight, gay, or bi, as he persistently courts Ismaël on a balcony like Romeo to his Romeo.

Some plays on stereotypes fall flat to American ears, such as Ismaël being teased as a “half-Jew” because he’s not circumcised and Erwann’s frequently noted Breton characteristics and clothes (Honoré is originally from Brittany). But amusing scenes of a mother’s curiousity about the physical arrangements of a three-way or a confused guy caught in bed first with a woman then later with a guy successfully cross the Atlantic. Regardless of any consistency or logic, love – and singing – conquers all. Nora Lee Mandel
March 19, 2008



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