'You Deserve a Lover' ('Tu merites un amour'): Film Review | Cannes 2019

Courtesy of Les Films de la Bonne Mere
Love's complicated.

Actress Hafsia Herzi produces, directs and stars in a tale of modern love that premiered as a special screening in Critics' Week.

Who could fail to sympathize with a young woman’s heartache at the end of a relationship and her reluctant need to move on, as recounted in You Deserve a Lover (Tu merites un amour)? Employing a modern French idiom (including a very relaxed attitude to sex) and an ethnically diversified cast of characters, Hafsia Herzi produces and directs her first feature film with promising naturalness and some convincingly passionate moments. The camera’s ironic eye on her merry-go-round of dissatisfying mini-relationships is sometimes touching, sometimes funny, sometimes a little irritating. But overall, the takeaway is warmly human.

Herzi, a French actress of Algerian and Tunisian descent, sprang to fame as a teenager in Abdellatif Kechiche’s The Secret of the Grain (2007) and now has a sizable body of work behind her. Here she also stars as the spirited Lila, a girl who has just split with her live-in boyfriend Remi (Jeremie Laheurte.) She's the biggest draw for this Wild Bunch dramedy set in an anonymous French city. Another attraction is the film’s female POV on the theme of contemporary love and sex, which is recounted without false modesty or sensationalism.

The opening scenes, it must be noted, do little to establish sympathy for Lila as she storms up to her ex’s door and discovers he's been consoling himself with a former girlfriend (Myriam Djeljeli). Swept by jealous fury, Lila flies into a rage and makes a huge scene on the street, humiliating herself more than him.

But when she talks things over with her best pal Ali (Djanis Bouzyani in a consistently amusing role), a dancer in a club who has been dumped by his 60-year-old lover, things get back into proportion. Ali advises her that Remi is a liar and a cheat and not worth losing sleep over. This is actually truer than she then knows, but it takes the whole film for her to accept their love story is fini.

Some of the dialogue is wickedly pungent and allows a good deal of comedy to wash over Lila’s misery. Trying to be helpful, Ali calls in a witch doctor who claims to have helped Carla Bruni when she had a problem with Nicolas Sarkozy. Ali has him put a spell on Remi’s apartment, but the wizard forgets to tell Lila she can’t have sex with other men or it won’t work. In the meantime, she has started dating again: a male model who picks her up in the park; a hot guy at a party who begins and ends their intimate acquaintance behind an elevator.

An online dating service turns up a string of unsuitable suitors in a long, well-edited sequence played for laughs. Then there is Charly (riveting young stage thesp Anthony Bajon), a sensitive young photographer whose half-Berber, half-Polish background intrigues her. She agrees to pose for a series of mildly erotic photos which he needs to apply to photography school. But it’s clear he has a hard time tearing his eyes away from her face (points for him).

Playing in frequent close-up and using her long dark hair as a prop, Herzi gives Lila some fire and intensity. Her sexual adventures slip into classic French bedroom farce when she meets an attractive couple of swingers in a health club. Though it comes late in the film, we still don’t know how she will react to their frank invitation to enjoy a new experience. The scene feels awkward and improbable, given the character Herzi has built up.

The film’s shoestring budget isn’t much of a liability for this off-the-cuff story. Jeremie Attard’s relaxed camerawork and penchant for close-ups is all that’s needed to keep attention focused on Lila and her friends. Though most of the cast appear to be non-pros and newcomers, the scripted dialogue sounds natural and casual enough to be improvised.

The film’s title comes from a poem by painter Frida Kahlo — who knew she was a poet? — that should be read by any woman suffering from a broken heart.
 
Production companies: Les Films de la Bonne Mere in association with Arte France Cinema
Cast: Hafsia Herzi, Djanis Bouzyani, Jeremie Laheurte, Anthony Bajon, Sylvie Verheyde, Karim Ait M’hand, Myriam Djeljeli
Director, screenwriter, producer: Hafsia Herzi
Associate producer: Michel Merkt
Executive producers:
Director of photography: Jeremie Attard
Editor: William Wayolie
Music: Nousdeuxtheband
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Critics' Week)
World sales: Wild Bunch
102 minutes