The last time Judge P.S. Colbert saw his heart, it was adrift in a sea of cholesterol.
"As a good Jewish father, I was preparing you for disillusionment."
The first time I watched The Day I Saw Your Heart, two words came to mind: quirky and deceptive. This cozy little French import wears quirkiness on its sleeve: in its character profiles, its humor, soundtrack, and its cinematography (by Laurent Tangy, proving perfectly adapt at getting that pastel-washed, refrigerator light soft-focus so common in today's romcoms and romdramas). By the time the credits began rolling, I found myself surprisingly impressed by this jumbled narrative of good-looking people and aesthetically pleasing scenery, particularly for its ability to seamlessly blend a trenchant comedic sense with more serious elements, including a couple of major emotional wallops along the way.
Justine Dhrey (Mélanie Laurent, Beginners) is a single woman drifting precariously close to thirty with a string of failed romantic relationships behind her (she's just ended her fifth in a year at the film's start), and practically nothing to look forward to, save for swilling Cosmopolitans and shaking her perfect little booty at the next "girls night out" in a local disco. Justine works as an X-ray technician, and when the boss isn't looking, she troops friends, relatives, pets and inanimate objects in to photograph them for special collages she hangs on the windows of her married sister's apartment, where she's currently living on the couch—quirky, right?
Justine's older sister Dom (Florence Loiret Caille) is the sensible one, a little on the nervous side, perhaps due to her inability to conceive a child with Bertrand (Sébastien Castro), her equally sensible and nervous husband. A nice enough pair, they essentially exist here to emphasize the quirkiness of others by virtue of their own complete lack of…quirk.
Things get rolling at a small family get-together celebrating the sixtieth birthday of Justine and Dom's father, Eli (Michel Blanc, Menage), who has a surprise announcement: his (much younger) bride Suzanne (Claude Perron, Amelie) has just gotten pregnant. The mother-to-be exudes giddy excitement, while her husband shows sheer indifference. Dom and Bertrand are appropriately congratulatory, but Justine expresses outright hostility and resentment.
The relationship between Justine and Eli has been complicated for as long as either one can remember, and their conversations are invariably cut short by misunderstandings and words that wound, intentionally or not. Like most close relatives at loggerheads, the pair resembles each other like the rope ends in a tug-of-war; both wield an aggressive cynical wit that lashes the heart as often as it tickles the ribs. Lest you wonder where Justine's quirkiness comes from, consider that Eli has an odd habit of maintaining close personal relationships with Justine's romantic cast-offs—a quirky and dangerous pursuit.
"If she finds out, she'll kill us," Eli cautions Atom (Manu Payet)—the last man Justine ran out on—after the two men agree that there's no reason they shouldn't continue playing golf together.
The second time I watched The Day I Saw Your Heart, I was fascinated by the deftness with which director Jennifer Devoldère ironed out any visible wrinkles between scenes that alternated between seemingly innocuous comedy and important interpersonal connections. What's more, the seemingly innocuous comedy was as trenchant as the more serious exchanges were profound in their authenticity.
Not that she didn't have help. The screenplay (co-written by Devoldère with Romain Lévy and Cécile Sellam) seems almost schizophrenic in its aims, and features a large number of characters for such a (deceptively) simple romantic comedy and (deceptively) facile family conflict drama, but even the most incidental role proves integral to the story's forward motion. Manipulative? Absolutely. However, when such manipulation works exactly as it should, the term "mastery" applies.
The casting is superlative—every cog well-oiled and in place, on time. Laurent—who made a lasting first impression in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds—only confirms her rare skill here, managing to convey an everywoman sense to Justine (without tamping down her own exquisite beauty), while keeping her sympathetic and likable—no easy feat for most actresses, taking into account the character's brusque humor and tendency to cut and run from her lovers, who in a refreshing change of pace, are not written off as obnoxious jerks deserving of such treatment.
Even more powerful is Michel Blanc. A short, bespectacled man with horseshoe pattern baldness and an ectomorph build, Blanc nevertheless imbues Eli with razor-sharp comic timing and a bone-deep (if flawed) sense of moral conviction that one can't imagine anyone else pulling this role off. Why weren't Blanc, Laurent, and Devoldère and her film richly rewarded with domestic box-office success and Oscar gold when originally released a year ago? I can think of only one reason—because Americans never got to see it!
Thankfully, specialty distributor Film Movement has seen fit to redress this injustice, and they've done this little gem proud, with a flawless 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and a pair of Dolby audio mix options (5.1, 2.0) that more than keep up their end of the bargain. Yes, Virginia, there are English subtitles. Also included are a short pitch to potential future Film Movement club subscribers, several theatrical trailers and a slight but charming animated short called "Don't Tell Santa You're Jewish," that doesn't necessarily have to wait for next Christmas, but will keep if you're one of those never-wear-white-shoes-after-Labor Day types.
The next time I watch The Day I Saw Your Heart, I'm certain that I'll find new and surprising things to admire about this quirky and deceptive masterpiece.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Film Movement
• Short Film
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