01 January 2008

Chansons d'Amour

2007 was an appalling year for Bex-friendly movies and I only went to the cinema a handful of times, which is a shame, given how much I love going and how frequently I used to go. However, things are looking up this year with several films I want to see coming soon (Lust, Caution, for example), and Les Chansons d'Amour, which I saw today and which was pretty good.

"Love Songs," as the English translation goes (I'm sure there must be a better, if less literal translation), was released in France last May and Monsieur E spoke very highly of it. "It's like Cruel Intentions but set in Paris," he said. So Dangerous Liaisons then... Actually, that's not quite true. It's a light, dreamy combination of Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, The Dreamers and Cruel Intentions, with a dab of La Stanza del Figlio thrown in for good measure.

The basic plot is thus: attractive young couple Julie and Ismaël have been together for eight years but something isn't quite right (that would be the tragedy of eternal monogamy then) so they bring Ismaël's workmate Alice into the bedroom and into the relationship to spice things up a bit. Obviously, this only complicates matters further and despite Ismaël's claims to Julie that "je n'aime que toi" she worries this isn't true. Anyway, things become an awful lot more complicated and the whole mood of the movie shifts dramatically after Big Plot Twist and what was fun and game-like suddenly becomes dark and serious as Ismaël desperately tries to find himself and to accept himself through the medium of shagging an assortment of people (the Random Hookup, the Teenage Guy, etc.), but it's not really much use as he ends the film as ennui-ridden as at the beginning. Basically, he's a bit of a self-centred, childish bastard, although he does it in such a sneeringly sexy and yet also butter-wouldn't-melt kind of way, that you can't really hate him so much as pity him.

The whole movie is punctuated by the characters bursting into song at regular intervals. I don't really like musicals but here, it seemed completely natural and, I realised, had it not been a musical, the thoughts sung by the characters would only have been voiced by some cool, indie singer on the soundtrack anyway. My favourite song is the aforementioned Je n'aime que toi, a trio between the three lovers in which Julie sings, "You bastard! Who do you like best? Her or me? You have to choose, damnit!" and Ismaël sings, "Look, you bitch! You know it's you I love; you're the only one I love! In any case, that other chick touches you too and you love it!" and Alice sings, "I'm the bridge between you both; if it weren't for me, there's no way you'd be together any more but I'm not sure I can be arsed with this bullshit for much longer."

The last film I saw starring Louis Garrel was The Dreamers, which also involved a Parisian menage à trois; he ought to be careful if he doesn't want to be typecast! Much as I enjoyed this film, I'm not sure it was dark enough to satisfy my tastes and I much preferred The Dreamers, not least because of the smoking hot Eva Green in the latter. Besides, The Dreamers had incest and who doesn't love a taboo? Oh, and it was set in '68 and is therefore automatically cool.

Maybe the characters are just a lot more interesting in The Dreamers: you have these twins who love each other and sleep naked together and have this incredibly complicated relationship that no outsider can possibly understand, and yet try to understand does the American outsider whose greatest wish is to be accepted into their messed up world. Les Chansons d'Amour, on the other hand, has this couple who aren't really very interesting - what 20-something couple doesn't go through the whole existentialist-what-are-we-doing? crisis? Of course they are confused and don't know whether they are meant to be together or why they are still together! Perhaps their only defining characteristics, though, seem to be their confusion and lack of self-understanding. Meanwhile, the all-knowing Alice is happy, confident and wise - she is Inès to Julie's Estelle and Ismaël's Garcin and on some levels, the complex relationship between the three of them becomes their hell.

In all, not a bad cinematographic start to the year; as for my translation of the title, I'll have to sleep on it.

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