We Love You, You Bastard (Salaud, on t’aime): Film Review

Les Films 13/Paname Distribution
An unwieldy family drama with flashes of energy and a totally incredulous third act.

Johnny Hallyday (“Vengeance”) and Sandrine Bonnaire (“A nos amours”) star in this latest feature from Oscar-winning French director Claude Lelouch (“A Man and A Woman”).

Continuing to expand on an oeuvre that contains over 50 features, shorts and documentaries -- many of them highlighted in his 2011 self-produced homage, From One Film to Another -- veteran French auteur Claude Lelouch offers up his latest mix of gushy drama and incongruous storytelling with the sentimental family saga, We Love You, You Bastard (Salaud, on t’aime).

Starring aging French rockers Johnny Hallyday and Eddy Mitchell alongside a cast of supporting actresses, including the great Sandrine Bonnaire (Vagabond), this unruly tale of a seasoned combat photographer who settles into a secluded chalet, only to find himself bombarded by unhappy daughters and lots of bad karma, manages to sustain interest until completely skidding off the slope in a bizarrely wrought third act. Better performed and helmed than some of the 76-year-old filmmaker’s recent efforts, Bastard should see mild offshore play following a local release on April 2 and an opening-night slot in this year’s City of Lights, City of Angels fest.

An initial driving sequence, set to a duet by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, takes us to a modern retreat in the Alps, where famous photojournalist Jacques Kaminsky (Hallyday) and his latest wife, Bianca (Agnes Soral), are looking to settle down for the long run. But any notion of stability in Jacques’ life, especially when it comes to women, is quickly batted aside when he meets attractive real estate broker, Nathalie (Bonnaire), and explains to her his very Gallic relationship rules: “One is faithful as long as one can’t find someone better.”

Faster than you can shout “Ciel, mon mari!” Jacques ditches Bianca to shack up with Nathalie in his new log cabin, bringing along boxes of vintage cameras and a libido the size of Switzerland that has spawned four girls from four marriages. (The Kaminsky character was clearly inspired by Lelouch himself, who has seven children from four wives.) When Jacques’ best buddy, the crafty doctor Frederic (Mitchell), shows up for a little R&R and realizes how distraught his friend is about being cut off from his own kids, he summons Jacques’ daughters to the mountains, claiming their dad is fatally ill.

It’s at this point that the scenario, co-written by Lelouch and Valerie Perrin, picks up steam, with the cheekily named sisters Spring (Irene Jacob of Three Colors: Red), Summer (Pauline Lefevre), Autumn (Sarah Kazemy) and Winter (Jenna Thiam) arriving on scene to stir up trouble and old memories, creating a whir of tension that ultimately brings out the truth amid plenty of shouts, tears, champagne and cigars.

Allowing such sequences to play out in extended takes that favor the acting over the scenery, Lelouch coaxes good turns out of his cast in these moments, especially from leading ladies Bonnaire and Jacob. Likewise, singers Hallyday and Mitchell -- both of whom are no strangers to the screen, the former having starred in films by Jean-Luc Godard and Johnnie To -- make for a convincing duo, even if Hallyday’s weathered, nearly immobile face is often hard to read and rarely changes expressions.

But whatever momentum Lelouch was building in the film’s mid-section is upended by several ludicrous plot twists in the latter reels, undermining the family dynamic in favor of genre conventions that really have no place in the story. To explain these late events would spoil the movie, although they honestly make little sense and seem to have been culled from something long lost in the director’s lengthy filmography.

Although Bastards fails to deliver on its initial promises, its photogenic setting and talented cast still yield a few strong moments, captured by DP Robert Alazraki (A French Gigolo) in shots that use windows, doors and multi-layered reflections to frame the action. There’s an underlying breeziness to the filmmaking that’s rather pleasant to behold, even if the cheese-factor can seem awfully high at times.

Alongside Armstrong/Fitzgerald standards like “Cheek to Cheek,” the soundtrack uses Georges Moustaki’s summery “Les eaux de Mars” to pick up the pace at different points in the film. While Hallyday and Mitchell never belt out any songs of their own, they do sing along to the famous Dean Martin-Ricky Nelson ballad from Rio Bravo, in a particularly bromantic scene of senior bonding.

Production companies: Les Films 13, Rhone-Alpes Cinema

Cast: Johnny Hallyday, Sandrine Bonnaire, Eddy Mitchell, Irene Jacob, Pauline Lefevre, Sarah Kazemy, Jenna Thiam

Director: Claude Lelouch

Screenwriters: Claude Lelouch, Valerie Perrin

Executive producer: Jean-Paul de Vidas

Director of photography: Robert Alazraki

Costume designer: Christel Birot

Editor: Stephane Mazalaigue

Music: Francis Lai, Christian Gaubert

Sales agent: Les Films 13

No rating, 123 minutes