Friday 19 March 2021

Filmic Postcard: Janice Tong Reports from the 32nd Alliance Française French Film Festival 2021 (Part 2) - LOVE AFFAIR(S) (Emmanuel Mouret)

Emmanuel Mouret

The essence of
 Emmanuel Mouret’s Les choses qu'on dit, les choses qu'on fait or The Things We Say, the Things We Do (2020) aka Love Affair(s) (latter title used in the AFFFF) lay in its rich and interweaving dialogue that circumnavigates our libidinal interiority. That is perhaps why our main protagonist, Maxime, says at the beginning of the film when asked to relate his story, that he prefers to describe it as ‘sentiment’(in French this means ‘feelings’) rather than love. It is also perhaps because that ‘love’ or ‘Love’ with a capital ‘L’ is elusive, and so very difficult to define - just as well too, for there is much in the history of poetry, writing, thought, cinema, music, art, that has dedicated itself to describe this ineffable ‘feeling’. 


This film led the César Awards this year with 13 nominations (the award for best film, announced yesterday, went to Adieu Les Cons also showing at the AFFFF this year) and earlier in January this year, Mouret’s film took the Best Film Award at the Lumières du Cinéma Award; which I think was very well deserved.


It was interesting to watch the  Lumieres' interview where Mouret (now 50) joked that all the critics outside of France were saying that this was a typical French film (romance, affairs, lots of dialogue), whereas in France, this film had been dubbed ‘atypical’ to the usual releases.


Well, I think it is a bit of both. In the first 20 to 30 mins of this 2 hour long film (don’t worry, time literally flits by) there was such a Woody Allen vibe to the film, that I could not shake; it played like a two-hander, with the two main characters recounting their love affair(s) to the other as a way of getting to know each other. It was reminiscent of the now famous Allen and Keaton repartee.  The use of music, the pace and sequencing of dialogue which is witty but light; it really felt like a 90s Allenfilm. But as the story progressed and more of the interlocking parts are revealed to us, the film became more like Louis Malle orJean Eustache


Niels Schneider, Heartbeats

The softly-spoken and lovelorn Maxime is played so effectively in the film by Niels Schneider that you can’t help but fall under his charm. You may remember him, as I do, all those years ago in Xavier Dolan’s Les amours imaginaires or Heartbeats (2010), as the curly-haired Louis Garrel look-a-like; or more recently, as Pierre Louÿs, the turn of the century French poet who wrote poems of an erotic nature in Lou Jeunet’s Curiosa (2019). Maxime has travelled to his cousin’s country house to spend a few days there following the fall out of his love affair, with the intention to writing his novel “I’ve always thought that I needed a bad breakup to be able to write my book” he said. There, he was greeted by his cousin’s girlfriend, the three months pregnant Daphné, played by Camélia Jordana (you may remember her from Le brio (2017) - I reviewed this on my blog last year) who tells him that his cousin, François, was unexpectedly called away on business. So, Maxime and Daphné spend an idyllic few days sightseeing and getting to know each other, Maxime tells of his woes that may indeed form the basis of his book; and Daphné recalls how she and François came to meet. 


Maxime (Niels Schneider) and Daphne  (Camélia Jordana) 
"...sightseeing and getting to know each other..."

The twists and turns their stories unfolded with a brilliant ensemble cast, Louis-Do de Lencquesaing as the director whom Daphné had a crush on; the unreciprocated attention brilliantly elucidated through the documentary she was editing for him, the ‘philosopher’ played by Claude Pommereau bore a striking resemblance to Jean-Claude Brisseau - and I would like to think that this is Mouret’s homage to this marginalised but nonetheless brilliant director who passed away in 2019. Daphné, (her name immediately conjures up Bernini’s great sculpture Apollo and Daphne) speaks of her metamorphosis, from her chance encounter with the married François (played by the always funny Vincent Macaigne) and she did run from him, just like Daphne ran from Apollo; to her now pregnant state. Then a side story about François’ wife Louise, played by Émilie Dequenne, who gives a fine performance (although I still see her as Rosetta(1999)) for which she won a César for Best Supporting Actress.


For Maxime, his story is just as complicated.  It started when he and his best buddy, Gaspard (Guillaume Gouix) met up with Maxime’s then married girlfriend, Victoire (Julia Piaton) who unknowingly introduces him to his old ex, Sandra, (Jenna Thiam) (yup, this is complicated enough, but wait for it) before Gaspard decided to seduce Sandra and asked Maxime to move in with them. To give away more would be to spoil the film, but there is so much more to this labyrinthine story. 


Victoire (julia Piaton), Maxime (Niels Schneider) and Sandra (Jenna Thiam)
before things got complicated

There are many Allenesque moments too that had me smiling; a scene where Sandra and Gaspard were fighting that had Sandra throwing books at him was especially funny; “You can take your Stendahl…Proust…Dostoevsky…Hugo…Tolstoy!” Basically, the entire literary canon, and he says in retort, “And you can take your Derrida!” I mentioned earlier of Mouret’s use of music to add a character-dimension to his scenes and this film brilliantly uses the Nocturnes and Waltzes of Chopin and Schubert, as well as composers like Debussy and Satie to heighten emotions throughout the film. 


What is to happen to Maxime and Daphné; Victoire, Sandra and Gaspard; François and Louise? Their stories weave in and out of different timelines and in and out of their lives, and mixed in with the present; where Maxime and Daphné fall more and more intimately into each others’ lives. 


Louise (Émilie Dequenne) and Daphne (Camélia Jordana) 
meet in a domestic setting but things are not what they seem

I’ve seen a number of Mouret films in the past few years on the SBS World Movies channel and they have always been entertaining and I remember the scenarios fondly, Shall We Kiss?(2007) is currently available to watch on YouTube (no English subtitles though) and I watched Lady J or Mademoiselle de Joncquières (2018) last night on NetflixIt is based loosely on the Denis Diderot novel A Woman Scorned, and is very much like a reprise of Les Liaisons dangereuses, a fun film with glorious period costumes. 


Personally, I think Love Affair(s) is his best film thus far. And remember…the things we say, are almost certainly not the things we do.


I do hope you will get to take the time to see this film.


Daphne ((Camélia Jordana)  and Francois (Vincent Macaigne)
share a moment.

The Alliance Française French Film Festival is currently showing in Sydney from the 2nd to the 31st March in a number of theatres. For details Click Here

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