‘Love at First Child’ (‘Ange et Gabrielle’): COLCOA Review

Courtesy of Emilie de la Hosseraye
A new formula yields the same old results.

Patrick Bruel and Isabelle Carre co-star in an atypical French romantic comedy.

With her second feature, Anne Giaffieri develops a complex emotional theory, positing an unusual outcome that results after an irresistible force meets an immovable object. When the two factors in conflict happen to be a couple of single Parisians who develop an instant dislike for one another, hints of screwball comedy materialize as the inevitable laws of attraction exert just enough influence to forestall a spectacular catastrophe. Maintaining a sufficiently manic tone proves to be Giaffieri’s principal challenge in proving her hypothesis however, particularly after she opts for a more conventional fallback scenario to achieve a convenient resolution.

The immovable object turns out to be middle-aged, single architect Ange (Patrick Bruel), who’s long been accustomed to having things his own way. Unconfined by family responsibilities, he’s free to go out clubbing, date attractive young women and indulge his preferences for fine food and wine. Pharmacist and single mother Gabrielle (Isabelle Carre) on the other hand, has taken on significant responsibility to raise her teenage daughter Claire (Alice de Lencquesaing) on her own, determined that her child should benefit from her caring parenting. Under ordinary circumstances, Ange and Gabrielle would probably never meet, but when Claire becomes pregnant at 17 just like her mother did, Gabrielle makes it her mission to hunt down Ange and get him to talk some sense into Claire’s 21-year-old boyfriend Simon (Thomas Soliveres), believing Ange to be Simon’s long-estranged father.

Immediately she faces two considerable obstacles: Simon has no interest in assuming parental responsibilities and Ange denies that he even has a son, despite what Simon’s mother tells Gabrielle about her long-ago love affair with the avowed bachelor. Undeterred by this wall of masculine indifference, Gabrielle launches a campaign of attrition, breaking down the men’s resistance – both to one another and to the possibility of fatherhood. Persuading Ange to meet with Simon results in a setback when the younger man petulantly rejects the idea that Ange could ever be his parent. For his part, Ange is starting to freak out a bit that Gabrielle seems to be stalking him, but at the same time recognizes that a certain attraction is developing between the two of them. And nobody can deny the reality that the birth of Claire’s baby is imminent, with the potential to profoundly affect all their lives in unexpected ways.

Prolific TV writer Giaffieri’s second feature is a departure from her debut, a drama concerning the power of Christian faith. Perhaps it’s not thematically unrelated, however, as she dwells extensively on the significance of family here, particularly the importance of dedicated parenting. Much like Gabrielle, however, Giaffieri’s script, adapted from the play L’Eveil du Chameau by dramatist and screenwriter Murielle Magellan and co-written with actress Anne Le Ny, comes across as lecturing its audience.

Like Ange, some may question if the men involved really need another mother figure chasing after them; others like Gabrielle may wonder if there’s any expiration date on some men’s immaturity. Call it the battle of the sexes, or the reproductive imperative, but either way it’s fairly clear how it’ll all turn out. Giaffieri’s initial inclination to conceive the film as a wacky contemporary comedy gradually bogs down in routine romantic conflicts until Claire decides she needs a break from single-mothering, unexpectedly leaving her  baby girl in the care of Simon and Ange. Now it’s an altogether different type of comedy, but only until Giaffieri decides to return to the romantic version of the plot, with unsurprising consequences.

Carre provides the film’s nervous momentum as a mother so focused on her child’s well-being that she’s let a good deal of her adult life slip away, failing to recognize romance even when she stumbles right upon it. Bruel of course is the hedonistic polar opposite, until he meets his match in Gabrielle, that is. As the young couple, de Lencquesaing and Soliveres don’t get much opportunity to realistically interact, creating the impression that they’re largely disengaged from plot developments. 

Production companies: Benji Films, Palazzo Films

Cast: Patrick Bruel, Isabelle Carre, Alice de Lencquesaing, Thomas Soliveres, Laurent Stocker, Carole Franck

Director: Anne Giaffieri

Screenwriters: Anne Giafferi, Anne Le Ny

Producers: Benoit Jaubert, Marc Olla

Director of photography: Stephane Cami

Production designer: Michele Abbe-Vannier

Costume designer: Nathalie Chesnais

Editor: Christine Lucas Navarro

Music: Jean-Michel Bernard 

Casting director: Gigi Akoka

Venue: COLCOA French Film Festival


Not rated, 91 minutes


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