Judge Ben Saylor has had enough of silly love songs.
Our review of Love Songs, published January 14th, 2009, is also available.
"Love me less, but love me a long time."
Filmmaker Christophe Honoré (Ma Mère) follows up his French New Wave homage Dans Paris with Love Songs, a musical that contains not only echoes of New Wave cinema but also Jacques Demy's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.
Facts of the Case
Within 2008, I've seen two different, non-pornographic movies set in foreign countries that deal with threesomes. That's something I never thought I'd be able to say. The first was Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona, a gorgeously filmed, strongly acted work that demonstrates how a relationship between three people can sometimes be more stable than other relationships between just two. The second, Christophe Honoré's Love Songs, is a much less successful film, despite the presence of many talented performers.
Taking the music out of the equation, Love Songs would be a largely unremarkable movie. Even though the DVD art (both front and back) makes an effort to tout the relationship shared by the three leads, the threesome angle only figures into about the first third of the film, and even then, the situation is sketchily explored (with the exception of a conversation between Julie and her mother that rather awkwardly fills in the expository blanks). The scenes between Julie and Ismaël led me to the conclusion that Ismaël is a selfish jerk, a theory validated by much of the character's behavior throughout the rest of the film.
Unfortunately, once Julie is out of the picture, the movie's focus shifts to Ismaël, a character who is not done any favors by Garrel's surprisingly unappealing performance. After a while, Ismaël's pushing away of pretty much anyone who tries to help him through his grief-Alice, Julie's sister Jeanne (a terrific Chiara Mastroianni)-grows tiresome, and by the time Ismaël finds solace in the arms of a young man named Erwann (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet), I found myself wondering why Ismaël even deserves this patience and affection. Even more annoyingly, Julie's family continues to dote on Ismaël-to the point of giving him her savings and life insurance policy!
Unfortunately, when factoring the music back into the equation, Love Songs isn't a whole lot better. While the movie is not presented entirely through song, as is the case with the execrable The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, the film does contain quite a few tunes, which are credited to Alex Beaupain. Some, like a mournful number by Ismaël after Julie's death, and a song performed by Julie's spirit at the end of the film, are actually fairly effective. But while they're performed well by the cast, you aren't likely to be humming any of these songs once the end credits have rolled.
Still, despite the deficiency of the lead character (which I blame more on the script than Garrel), the supporting cast-particularly the always-good Sagnier, along with Mastroianni and Hesme-is excellent, and Honoré displays the same excellent visual sense that was evident in Dans Paris. Love Songs is also very well shot, with Remy Chevrin's cinematography conveying a variety of cool and warm colors. As in Dans Paris, Honoré continues with nods to the New Wave in Love Songs; examples include his use of surnames only in the opening titles, a Godardian scene near the beginning with the threesome in bed reading, and in a scene near the end of the film that is sped up for comic effect.
Genius Products' DVD of Love Songs is satisfactory from a technical standpoint; the image ably shows off Chevrin's cinematography (although night scenes don't always look the best), and the Dolby 5.1 track renders the dialogue and music quite nicely. Beyond the film's trailer, there are no extras to be found here, although several previews play before the disc's main menu.
Dans Paris is not a perfect film, but it is still much better than its successor. Love Songs is hampered by several factors, including an uninteresting plot and unmemorable songs. Only diehard Christophe Honoré fans should seek this out.
Guilty of being a subpar Christophe Honoré film.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
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