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Love Songs

A Cinematic Treat for Fans of the Nouvelle Vague

Love Songs (“Les Chansons d'amour”), a romance/musical written by French filmmaker Christophe Honoré (Dans Paris, Ma mere) as an homage to the Nouvelle Vague (French New Wave) films of the early 60s (e.g. Truffaut, early Godard, Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) with, of course, a very contemporary, very French twist is, despite uneven pacing, a loose, meandering structure, and the usual arty pretensions found among serious, auteur-minded European filmmakers, a surprisingly engaging, convention defying, and emotionally resonant exploration of love lost and love found among romance-obsessed, twenty-something, sexually adventurous Parisians.

Lovers and housemates, Ismaël Bénoliel (Louis Garrel) and Julie Pommeraye (Ludivine Sagnier), decide in typically French fashion (in film, that is), to spice up their stagnant relationship by adding a third member to their relationship, Alice (Clotilde Hesme), one of Ismaël’s work mates. They smoke together, they drink together, they read serious-sounding books together all while sharing the same bed. Alice’s presence in their relationship, however, proves to be more problematic than Ismaël or Julie is willing to admit, to themselves or each other. For her part, Alice can’t decide whom she cares about more. This being France, Julie seeks advice from her older sister, Jeanne (Chiara Mastroianni), and her mother (Brigitte Roüan), both of whom are more interested in the physical aspects of a ménage-à-trois than the emotional complexities Julie’s dual relationship with Ismaël and Alice has caused.

Honoré divides Lost Songs into three, distinct sections, “Departure", “Absence", and “Return", which unsurprisingly translate into classical three-act structure, but as the first act ends, Honoré springs a major plot twist that sends Ismaël and several other characters into a completely different direction. The lightweight, comedic dialogue (spoken and sung) gives way to a significantly darker tone that focuses on Ismaël’s fitful maturation. The second act also introduces another major character, Erwann (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet), the university student brother of Alice’s new boyfriend, Gwendal (Yannick Renier). As with the darker tone, Honoré shifts to a darker, less inviting color palette. Paris still looks inviting, but it looks more like a typically cosmopolitan city in Western Europe than the picture postcard setting the non-French are used to seeing through romantic films or other media.

As novel as the mix of dialogue and singing is (there’s no dancing), as delightful as Alex Beaupain songs are, as effortlessly and seamlessly directed as Love Songs is, and as engaging as the performances are by a uniformly strong cast are, Love Songs suffers from a lack of focus, head-scratching dialogue (spoken or sung), and undermotivated characters. Both are minor criticisms, but even putting them aside, Love Songs isn’t for everyone. In fact, it’s probably not for most moviegoers. Honoré obviously made Love Songs for his fellow Frenchmen and Frenchwomen, as homage to the films and directors he favors, and, of course, Francophiles.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars