A View of Love (Un Balcon sur la mer): Film Review

A muted French story of romantic intrigue and identity haunted by the past doesn't look to travel far.

There's not much at stake in Nicole Garcia's somber film about French lovers rekindling a relationship that began in Algeria 20 years earlier.

The blandly titled A View of Love unravels a twisted tale of intrigue and deception involving French lovers haunted by a shared childhood in Algeria. Somber almost to the point of being morose, Nicole Garcia's latest film sustains interest by virtue of its plot complications and assured professional sheen but never truly sweeps one into its mysteries or sense of loss. The pervasive ennui suggests scant international opportunities for this handsomely turned out production.

A happy, married, good-looking real estate agent in the South of France sometime in the 1980s, Marc (Jean Dujardin, OSS 117) finds his life turned upside down by when a certain Mrs. Mondonato (Marie-Josee Croze) comes round to inspect a high-priced property for a client. Provocatively turned out with blond hair and a reserved attitude, she seems oddly familiar and it doesn't take long for the two to establish that she is Cathy, the girl Marc was crazy about as a kid in Algeria before their families fled in 1962.

Naturally, they must consummate their mutual attraction these 20-some years later and Marc uses professional excuses to justify driving Cathy around to further destinations. Despite the exceptional coincidence of their reunion, however, Cathy remains rather cool and unforthcoming, not keen on delving into the past to sort and match recollections of their lost youth. "We all have different memories," she blandly asserts before taking off.

Now able to think of nothing but this woman, Marc incredulously listens when his mother (Claudia Cardinale) insists that Cathy was killed in a bombing shortly after their family left Algeria. And so ensue a series of revelations about Cathy/Mrs. Mondonato, her true intentions and business connections and the angst her actions creates all around.

While the intricacies of this mysterious woman's life sustain moderate interest, Marc's essential immobilization during most of the film's second half creates major narrative problems; the man goes into an uncommunicative sulk, estranged from his wife and child, paralyzed professionally and unable for the longest time to provoke Cathy/Mrs. Mondonato into showing her cards. Instead, the focus shifts to the deteriorating relationship between the woman and her lover/mentor Sergio (Toni Servillo, very good), a confident operator who may be losing his grip as he advances in years.

As the truth about Marc and the woman's past link begins to emerge, childhood flashbacks accelerate to fashion sharply etched glimpses of innocent young life against a backdrop of bloody conflict. But there's not enough at stake in the script by Garcia and her frequent collaborator Jacques Fieschi to make it terribly compelling and both Dujardin and Croze seem constrained by aspects of their roles, he by Marc's retreat inside and she by the requirements of her charade. The normally earthy and radiant Croze is also hampered initially by a blond dye job, unbecoming haircut and too much makeup; glam femme fatale get-up doesn't suit her.

The production's silky smooth look is further enhanced by a wide assortment of eye-catching southern locations.

Venue: City of Lights City of Angels Film Festival (Los Angeles)
Production: Les Productions du Tresor, EuropaCorp, France 3 Cinema, Pauline's Angel (International sales: EuropaCorp)
Cast: Jean Dujardin, Marie-Josee Croze, Toni Servillo, Sandrine Kiberlain, Michel Aumont, Pauline Belier, Claudia Cardinale, Jacques Valles, Romain Millot, Solene Forveille, Emma Maynadie
Director: Nicole Garcia
Screenwriters: Jacques Fieschi, Nicole Garcia
Producer: Alain Attal
Director of photography: Jean-Marc Fabre
Production designer: Thierry Flamand
Costume designer: Natalie du Roscoat
Editors: Francoise Bonnot, Emmanuelle Castro
Music: Stephen Warbeck
Running time: 105 minutes