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Taking a complete 180° turn after his successful string of Paris-set rom coms, writer-director and actor Emmanuel Mouret (Shall We Kiss?, The Art of Love) delivers a dark and overtly dramatic three-hander with the icy romantic thriller, Lovers (Une autre vie).
Featuring regular star Virginie Ledoyen alongside Italian actress Jasmine Trinca and, in a creative bit of casting, rapper-turned-actor JoeyStarr, this bold but misguided effort is as well-crafted as it often feels overblown, asking viewers to take a considerably leap of faith in following its many twists, turns and swooning scenes of amour interdit. A late-January local release has yielded mixed results and reviews, while overseas action should include Francophone fests and a few art house distributors, primarily in Western Europe.
It’s a set-up we’ve all seen in a French movie before: World famous pianist, Aurore (Trinca), has a nervous breakdown following her dad’s death, and is now holed up in his magnificent country estate on the Côte d’azur. Having given up her music career to wallow around the house and look at old family photos, she suddenly sees her mood uplifted when encountering Jean (JoeyStarr), a brawny but warmhearted electrician who stops by several times to install a new security system. A passionate affair ensues, featuring scenes of the two riding along the coast in Aurore’s convertible, sailing the Mediterranean in her yacht and frolicking in the bushes.
If this also sounds like the plot of a porno movie (unhappy bourgeoise gets served by alarm guy), that’s not completely off, and although there’s no explicit sex here, the deliberately distant acting and wooden line-readings make it look like Mouret had been hired to helm the latest installment of the Emmanuelle series. Yet there’s also something rather beguiling in the auteur’s attempt to appropriate so many Euro art film tropes into one film, and he often seems to be taking things this far, and this unironically, on purpose.
Such a strategy is more or less confirmed in the movie’s second half, which veers directly into Alfred Hitchcock territory when Jean’s jealous longtime girlfriend, Dolores (Ledoyen, caked in black eyeliner), does everything in her power to separate the lovers. When an accident changes things significantly for the three of them, and Dolores starts reading Patricia Cornwell novels, the movie becomes a bona fide thriller, complete with some very plausibility-stretching developments and third act reversals.
After Mouret’s many comic gabfests, where he often played a main character inspired by the likes of Woody Allen and Buster Keaton, you’ve got to give the filmmaker credit for trying something totally out of left field here. He’s clearly studied up on Vertigo and other similar movies (Francois Truffaut‘s The Soft Skin also comes to mind), going so far as to have Gregoire Hetzel (Incendies) produce an orchestral score that mimics the swooping themes of Bernard Hermann, and having regular cinematographer Laurent Desmet insert enough shots of waves crashing on the shore to make you want to grab a raincoat.
Yet whether or not it all works in the end is questionable, and the film’s denouement will especially cause lots of eyes to roll, closing out the story with an overdose of plot mechanics and leaps in time that hardly shed further light on the three protagonists.
Dishing out performances that are purposely stiff, the actors still manage to convey their characters’ overarching sense of longing, although Ledoyen (Army of Crime) is often way too one-dimensional as a vindictive gf straight out of Fatal Attraction. Trinca (The Son’s Room) does a good job playing an uptight rich girl opening herself up to a newfound romance, while former MC JoeyStarr (Polisse) is ultimately convincing as an honest man who sees his dreams crushed by the fury of a scorned woman.
Opens: Wednesday, Jan. 22 (in France)
Production companies: Moby Dick Films
Cast: JoeyStarr, Virginie Ledoyen, Jasmine Trinca, Stephane Freiss
Director, screenwriter: Emmanuel Mouret
Producer: Frederic Niedermayer
Director of photography: Laurent Desmet
Production designer: David Faivre
Costume designer: Carine Sarfati
Music: Gregoire Hetzel
Editor: Martial Salomon
Sales agent: Kinology
No rating, 95 minutes
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