Doodad Kind of Town

"Love Songs"
March 21, 2008, 8:37 pm
Filed under: Musicals

I first became aware of “Love Songs” from last week’s review on Salon, where critic Andrew O’Hehir dubbed it “Menage a Trois: The Musical!”

If only it were that much fun.

Director/writer Christoper Honore has concocted a dreamy, slight little pop operetta that apparently borrows heavily from the traditions of Truffaut, Godard and Jacque Demy’s “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”. I say “apparently”, because my own experience of those influential directors and films is spotty and incomplete. But I’ll pass on to you that background information (from O’Hehir’s and other reviews) in the hopes it may enhance your experience of “Love Songs.” Myself, I felt I was missing something.

At the outset, “Love Songs” is certainly charming and engaging enough. There are these three young people you see – Julie (Ludivine Sagnier), Alice (Clotilde Hesme) and Ismael (Louis Garrel) living and sleeping together in a playful, if sometimes uneasy threesome. Alice declares herself both asexual and attracted to Julie, Ismael professes happy adoration for both women, and Julie veers between a sophisticated acceptance of the situation and feelings of deep hurt. (Sagnier, who plays Julie, bears a passing resemblance to Chole Sevigny, and – like Sevigny, – seems limited to a small range of mopey, hangdog facial expressions.) Nevertheless, it’s all played with a bubbly Gallic sophistication. (In one scene, the three are lined up in bed, each reading a book. As the camera pans across them, we see the titles. Ismael reads “Perfect Happiness,” Julie reads “Voluptuous Pleasure,” Alice reads a sober tome titled “Politics.”)

But the tone of the film changes abruptly when (WARNING – SPOILER AHEAD), Julie dies suddenly outside a Parisian nightclub, turning a carefree evening out into a tragic one within moments. The remaining two-thirds of the film become a meditation on grief and mourning and the possibility of finding new love. And despite how promising that might sound, the latter part of the film is far less interesting. Gone is the fizzy chemistry between the three young lovers. Now we have endless scenes of the broody Ismael and others singing sad, wistful Europop ballads, often in grey and rainy locales -songs that all pretty much sound the same with fuzzy-headed lyrics that have no insights about loss or grief. Between the sad songs, the survivors attempt to form new relationships, and Julie’s older sister (Chiarra Mastroianni) practically moves into Ismael’s apartment in some misguided attempt to gain closure for both herself and him.

If you can hold out for the final scene, however, you’ll get the poweful emotional payoff this story demands. I won’t reveal the details, but the film ends with Ismael opening his heart to a new love, a memorable song (the new lover begs “Love me less, but for a longer time.”) and a heart-stopping visual image which beautifully encapsulates both the thrill and the risk of learning to love again.


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