After the marvellous bittersweet family drama DANS PARIS, French writer-director Christophe Honoré returns with a bittersweet contemporary musical LES CHANSONS D'AMOUR. It's a drama about the impact of love affairs and loss on a group of young people in a rather dismal, gloomy, contemorary Paris. The movie sees Christophe Honoré continue his collaboration with the young actor, Louis Garrel, who appears in an all-too familiar role as a cheeky, good-looking erotomaniac. Ismaël (Garrel) is an infantile exhibitionist, who'll play with puppets to cheer people up. Some may find this charming (Honoré evidently does). I found it deeply irritating. The fact that I was irritated is, however, simply a matter of taste. The more serious charge against Garrel's performance is that it undercuts the serious subject matter of the film. We have to believe that he is genuinely torn between his love for his girlfriend Julie (Ludivine Sagnier) and his attraction to his co-worker Alice (Clotilde Hesme). We have to believe that when a tragic event occurs, "every second is a sob". We have to believe that he starts to shag anyone he can - even the sweet young boy who genuinely loves him - so that he can at least connect again. Sadly, Garrel's performance is not one that convinces that such an emotional weight lies behind his actions. The result is that he simply looks like a confused young man indulging in some opportunistic shagging. (Contrast this with Romain Duris' performance as a guy with REAL emotional problems in Honoré's previous film DANS PARIS.) The other big problem with LES CHANSONS D'AMOUR is that, surprise surprise, the story is told through music. I didn't particularly like the style of Alex Beaupain's rather insipid acoustic songs. Neither did I like the breathy, half-spoken singing style of the actors. The problem is that pop song lyrics, which their short lines and easy rhymes, often sound banal. Even when Honoré wants to do something poetic with them, they just end up sounding pretentious. All in all, it's a big fat failure. Never mind. With a director as talented as Honoré we can always look forward to the next film!
LES CHANSONS D'AMOUR played Cannes and Toronto 2007 and was released in Belgium, France, and the UK last year. It was released in the US, Russia and Greece earlier this year and goes on release in Germany next Friday.