Love and Bruises: Venice Film Review

Will batter and bruise most viewers beyond director Lou’s faithful few.

In the French-language drama, Chinese auteur Lou Ye aptly captures the gritty and oppressive sides of Paris' northern districts.

PARIS — When foreign directors make films in Paris, the result is often a predictable mix of cafés, croissants and obligatory shots of the Eiffel Tower at night. In the French-language drama Love and Bruises, Chinese auteur Lou Ye (Summer Palace) steers clear of such clichés, only to deliver a whole other brand of them in this sordid, ultimately bland tale of amour fu between a Beijing student and a banlieue thug, played by A Prophet star Tahar Rahim. Filled with Lou’s usual sexcapades, and with enough rapes and scuffles to make the City of Light look like the South Bronx, Bruise should pound only a handful of arthouses after its Venice Days opening berth.

A darling amongst Gallic critics and fests (his 2009 film, Spring Fever, nabbed the Best Screenplay award at Cannes), Lou may lose a few of his French allies with this overwrought and humorless story of a visiting Chinese beauty, Hua (newcomer Corinne Yam), who falls into the clutches of Mathieu (Rahim), a cagey, working class 25-year-old with a gift for violence that keeps on giving.

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Their first encounter, which takes place in a colorful street market whose booths Mathieu assembles and takes apart for a living, starts with a seemingly harmless pick-up that, hours later, ends with Mathieu date raping Hua in an abandoned construction site. Rather than buying a one-way ticket home, Hua (who speaks French fluently) is actually turned on by such charms. The two then begin a long-term affair that grows increasingly unpleasant while revealing precious little about each character’s personality, other than that they’re both awfully unstable.

The fact that Hua continues seeing Mathieu despite his actions, which include pawning her off on his delinquent pal, Giovanni (a lively Jalil Lespert, Human Resources) – who rapes her in turn – is never really explained in the script (co-written with Jie Liu-Falin, and based on her novel). As it plays out, Hua either enjoys taking abuse (the “bruises” part), or else Mathieu is so talented in bed that she can’t leave him (perhaps the “love” part) no matter how many times he called her a salope(the original title for the project was the more direct Bitch).

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What’s most disappointing about Lou’s Paris-set story is that, although he and cinematographer Yu Lik Wai (Platform, 24 City) aptly capture the gritty and oppressive sides of its northern districts – a side which fellow Asian directors Tsai Ming-Liang and Hou Hsiao-Hsien missed in their own Paris films – he populates it with such an unpleasant band of cretins that he creates clichés of another order. Never once does Mathieu appear to use his brain, and the one, late detail we learn about his past is yet another stereotype of a banlieuekid unable to manage his life.

The various Paris sequences are so despairing that when Hua eventually makes it back to Beijing in the film’s closing reels, the city and its inhabitants come off as altogether more civilized and intelligent. This doesn’t mean that the narrative gains further traction, and rather than leading to a strong climax it mostly fizzles out, relying on slow-motion and weighty music (by regular composer Peyman Yazdanian) to do the work that the characters should be doing themselves.

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Both Yam and Rahim have incredible screen presence, so it’s all the more unfortunate that their dialogues, especially in Rahim’s case, often lean towards the ridiculous. (In one over-the-top scene, Mathieu advises a friend of Hua’s to “f*** his wife better” if he wants to get her back.) Beyond such moments, the two are often simulating sex, which leads to some fairly intense sequences, especially a delirious disco set-piece that will make you think twice about sitting on a banquette in a Paris nightclub.

Yet despite such raciness, Love and Bruises has neither the stylistic prowess of Lou’s Suzhou River nor the political-emotional charge of Summer Palace, and its many abuses wind up being inflicted in vain.

Section: Venice Days (Opening Film)
Production companies: Why Not Productions, Dream Factory, Les Films du Lendemain, Arte France Cinema
Cast: Corinne Yam, Tahar Rahim, Jalil Lespert, Vincent Rottiers, Sifan Shao, Zhang Songwen, Patrick Mille, Adele Ado
Director: Lou Ye
Screenwriters: Lou Ye, Jie Liu-Falin
Based on a novel by: Liu-Falin
Producers: Pascal Caucheteux, Kristina Larsen, Nai An
Director of photography: Yu Lik Wai
Production designer: Guillaume Deviercy
Costume designer: Virginie Montel
Editor: Juliette Welfling
Music: Peyman Yazdanian
Sales: Wild Bunch
No rating, 104 minutes

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