The Art of Love: Film Review

Some promising ideas in this high-toned romantic comedy get smothered by an over-complicated presentation.  

French director Emmanuel Mouret's intermittently amusing sixth feature consists of vignettes in which everyone obsesses over and discusses matters romantic and sexual.

LOCARNO — The shadow of Woody Allen hangs heavy over Emmanuel Mouret'sintermittently amusing sixth feature, The Art of Love (L'Art d'aimer), an lukewarm, episodic criss-crosser examining the Parisian counterparts of those urban, well-heeled, educated Manhattanites, all white and heterosexual with various minor hang-ups and neuroses, familiar from decades of Allen movies. An ensemble full of stars from recent French hits will boost the picture's domestic appeal and may open more doors for writer/director/actor Mouret (best known for 2007's Shall We Kiss) in terms of festival play and TV sales.

As 1972's Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex (But Were Afraid To Ask) demonstrated, even Allen struggled with a multi-episode portmanteau structure. And Mouret fares little better, the format proving an awkward showcase for what could have been a couple of effective stand-alone works. Most potent is a segment about a long-wed couple whose marriage is threatened when the wife (Ariane Ascaride) finds herself lusting after every attractive man she meets. ("I can't fight my own body any more," she sobs.) As usual in The Art of Love, infidelity is suggested but never actually committed. Mouret instead building up to a conclusion that's genuinely touching and romantic. This section is essentially a fine, self-contained short, but is unsatisfactorily integrated within the lopsided overall design.

The last of the ten 'chapters' is among the longest, but works so well it could have been expanded to full feature-length. Re-introducing several characters from earlier episodes, it's a classically-constructed farce in which two strangers end up having regular sexual encounters without learning each others' identities, the bizarre result of unlucky-in-love singleton Isabelle (Julie Depardieu) helping out a pal. Depardieu is a ditzy delight as Isabelle, the actress's deft comic gifts enabling us to swallow the contrived scenario.

Other vignettes range from the mildly diverting to the tiresomely protracted. A sequence involving a young couple, the male half of which is played by heartthrob Gaspard Ulliel, could be profitably trimmed or even excised altogether.

Four sections are skits featuring a horny middle-aged smoothie (François Cluzet) and his new neighbor (Frédérique Bel), a fickle blonde who muses "maybe I should have an affair..." during their first chat. Their budding ardor is imperiled by their (or rather her) over-articulate, excessively analytical approach to matters of the heart. Indeed, nearly everyone here spends endless time obsessing over and discussing matters romantic and sexual. And as if there wasn't enough gabbing, Mouret also occasionally throws in an omniscient narrator (Philippe Torreton). As with recent Allen movies, these voice-overs often simply spell out what we're seeing, endowing proceedings with a distracting 'pseudo-literary' air, as well as revealing a (misplaced) lack of faith in the performers' considerable abilities.

Venue: Locarno Film Festival
Production companies: Moby Dick Films; Partizan Films
Cast: Julie Depardieu, FrançoisCluzet, Frédérique Bel, Gaspard Ulliel, Laurent Stocker, Judith Godrèche
Director/screenwriter: Emmanuel Mouret
Producer: Frédéric Niedermayer
Co-producer: Georges Bermann
Director of photography: Laurent Desmet
Production designer: David Faivre
Costume designer: Carine Sarfati
Music: Frédéric Norel
Editor: Martial Salomon
Sales: Kinology, Paris
No rating, 85 minutes