Eye For Film >> Movies >> Les Chansons D'Amour (2007) Film Review
I remember watching Bertolucci’s The Dreamers and thinking, “How delightfully French!” France has a cornucopia of national traits that can be a joy and inspiration to experience.
The Dreamers was set against the student riots of the late 60s. Defiance. A willingness to fight for culture! Demonstrations outside cinemas to preserve true art! A gourmet attitude of tolerance in matters of sexuality. A passion for life. Cigarettes. An atheistic realism. The religion of good taste. A disdain for work - to let the higher faculties soar.
Against a similar, if more modern background, Les Chansons d’Amour also takes flight. Lifting us in its arms, we have one of those rarest of creatures: an exceedingly French musical. Love, life, poetry, passion, sensitivity, all magnificently exalted in song – quite a lot of songs actually – for your cross-Channel delectation and savouring.
Les Chansons d’Amour starts off fluffily enough – Paris streets, a simple boy-girl relationship. But this is no prudish American musical or its furtive British variant. Before long – in a scene charmingly reminiscent of Singin’ In The Rain’s couch number - we realise Ismael (Louis Garrel) and his girlfriend Julie (Ludivine Sagnier) are involved in a happy threesome beneath the sheets.
But love cannot be superficial. We do not need the extremes of Danish cinema – this is no Dancer In The Dark. But we will have tragedy, generation class struggles, heartfelt emotion and aesthetically intellectual challenge, if you please. And the young cast shall be terribly good-looking without being too pretty-pretty. (And white - one might add, more cynically.)
But if there are unbearable tensions, we shall elevate them into song. Pianos shall tinkle and guitars will strum. Tears will be sublimated by lovely voices as, “the rain falls without a care.” Sexual details will be tastefully and unashamedly scattered through the lyrics.
The whole film reeks of style within a suitably unostentatious budget. When Julie unexpectedly collapses at a rock concert, imaginative cinematography intersperses black and white stills of a matter-of-fact ambulance crew with tunefully segued flashbacks. We try to piece together what has happened. The monochrome medical assistants have a documentary-style reality. At other times, clever uses of colour tone cue the intended attitude we should take. Cold and serious (blue) with old-fashioned parents. Or warm and romantic (reds and browns) to forestall any opposition to a homoerotic flirtation (All shades of sexual preference are treated with the same romantic poetry: focus on the person, not their gender, the film seems to say.)
If this were a British or American production, the pace would be, “this is what’s about to happen, this is what’s happening now, and this is what’s just happened.” Audiences at feelgood musicals are not known for their attention skills. Les Chansons d’Amour, in sharp contrast, is fast-moving and expects you to keep up. Blink and you will have missed a plot development. Are you awake at the back? Isn’t cinema for adults as well?
A strength of the script and the songs is that there is never any hint of caricature or parody. When they sing, they mean what they say as much as if they had said it. They do not inhabit the fantasy land, however wonderful, of Gene Kelly dancing in puddles, or Julie Andrews running up hillsides. They can get away with lines such as: “Your body like a flow of lava washing over me,” and make it sound sexy and romantic.
The end result is genuinely moving.
But how will the film fare outside of its home country? The songs make you want to buy the soundtrack – if you can speak French. It is not the standard art-house fare that lovers of subtitled films make into a cinematic diet. Les Chansons d’Amour is unashamedly commercial. But I just wish there were more ‘commercial’ films like this.Reviewed on: 13 Aug 2007