E-Love: Berlin Review

Internet dating provides a topical backdrop for a lukewarm French romantic comedy.

Based on Dominique Baqué’s novel, the screenplay by director Anne Villacèque and Sophie Fillières is primarily a showcase for actress Anne Consigny.

BERLIN -- Given cinema’s reluctance to deal with the romantic and sexual lives of the middle-aged, it’s encouraging to see the needs of a 49-year-old woman addressed head-on in edgy French comedy E-Love. But good intentions only get the film-makers so far, and their so-so execution — combining sitcom-style laughs with occasional darker elements — makes for a missed opportunity that’s only passably amusing and enlightening, though there’s perhaps raw material here for a more polished Stateside remake.

Co-produced with French TV station ARTE and shot on crisp high-definition video, the picture is essentially undemanding, quite mainstream fare — though a couple of steamy adults-only scenes will restrict small-screen exposure. It may, however, strike chords with indulgent older audiences, and can unobtrusively pad out programs of less discerning festivals.

Based on Dominique Baqué’s novel, the screenplay by director Anne Villacèque and Sophie Fillières is primarily a showcase for lead-actress Anne Consigny, gamely playing slightly older than her actual age as 49-going-on-50 philosophy lecturer Paulle. Paulle’s "perfect life" — a rewarding job, loving husband Alex (Antoine Chappey) and "perfect" 14-year-old daughter (Rebecca Marder) — is upturned when she and Alex drift apart, and Alex takes up with a much younger woman he met via Soulmate.com.

On the basis that what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, Paulle plunges herself, after the briefest of hesitations, into the world of internet dating. Over the few weeks during which her daughter is (conveniently) absent at summer-camp, Paulle has a series of encounters and dates with men of various levels of unsuitability. 

Oddly, the most satisfying of these, with a gentleman of African extraction whose nom du net is Black Charles (Jacky Ido), is also the briefest. The picture "tactfully" skips over what Paulle’s subsequent delighted reactions indicate was very pleasurable sex, and Charles is never glimpsed again. Villacèque is less coy when it comes to a couple of Paulle’s later liaisons, including a promising courtship with the erudite, sensitive Opale (Carlo Brandt), but ultimately the film is decidedly ambivalent about whether true amour can be extricated from the Web.

Placing such emphasis on a single character — everyone else is defined by how they impact on Paulle’s personal development — proves risky for Villacèque and Fillières, as they rely on us finding their heroine consistently appealing and interesting. But Paulle is so self-absorbed and self-centred that at times, such as her reaction to her sister’s lesbian relationship and its collapse, we struggle to retain our sympathy. 

In addition, Villacèque complicates matters with some tricky time-hopping, at times shifting between reality and what may be fantasies, dreams or idealised imaginings. Occasional nods to French cinema of the 1960s — the final scene has Paulle crying through a showing of François Truffaut’s 1964 Soft Skin — add an opportunistically arty edge to proceedings without significantly deepening our engagement.

Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Forum)
Production companies: AGAT Films, ARTE France (in association with A Plus Image 2)
Cast: Anne Consigny, Antoine Chappey, Carlo Brandt, Carole Franck, Maher Kamoun, Serge Renko
Director: Anne Villacèque
Screenwriters: Anne Villacèque, Sophie Fillières (based on the novel by Dominique Baqué)
Producers: Nicolas Blanc
Director of photography: Pierre Milon
Production designers: Alain Lagarde, Pascale Consigny 
Costume designer: Bethsabée Dreyfus
Editor: Nelly Quettier
Sales: Europe Images International, Boulogne
No rating, 95 minutes