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  • 15
  • Drama, Musical
  • 2007
  • 96 mins

Les Chansons D'Amour

Les Chansons D'Amour

Synopsis

For his fourth feature, Christophe Honoré gives his cast something to sing about - love, longing and loss

About

There is a scene in Christophe Honoré's previous film Dans Paris (2006) in which two estranged lovers conducted a highly charged telephone conversation entirely in song. A reprise of a sequence from Jean-Luc Godard's Weekend (1967), its inherent artificiality strangely serves to reinforce rather than to undermine the intensity of the characters' feelings - the lyrics expressing emotions which might otherwise remain buried.

Honoré's latest film, Les Chansons D'amour, pulls off the same trick many times over. It is an erotic narrative whose characters express their innermost feelings in bursts of song, but it never sacrifices its heartfelt, often painful moods on the altar of irony. Thirteen songs feature, some written and arranged by Alex Beaupain before the film was conceived, others composed especially for it. The actors bring their own intimacy to the pieces. Though their voices may at times be fragile, they are more convincing than, say, the cast of Woody Allen's Everyone Says I Love You (1996).

Over a montage of Parisian scenes that intersperse postcard clichés with more grounded images of immigrants and the homeless, the opening credits present the surnames (only the surnames) of cast and crew in stark white capital letters. A film as bold as the typeface of its titles takes its time to emerge, beginning with cinematic conventionality. Julie (Sagnier) is spotted walking in the wintry streets of the 10th arrondissement, looking just like a movie star in her immaculate coat and scarf. She is anxious about the apparent diffidence of her lover Ismaël (Garrel). The menage à trois that she initiated a month ago with Ismaël's work colleague Alice (Hesme), though intended to make the couple closer, may be having the opposite effect.

The sexual politics of this situation are laid out with a breezy, whimsical slightness - but there are darker clouds on the horizon. The piano soundtrack that opens the film has a decidedly melancholic lilt. In the film's first section, titled 'The Departure', Julie sings of her relationship with Ismaël as though it is already over ("I know you're mine/but can love die?/What memories/do you have of me?") and Julie's younger sister Jasmine (Butaud) conspicuously reads a collection of tragedies.

The heartbroken Julie does indeed depart, with shocking finality. From this point, Les Chansons D'Amour takes a graver turn, with only the bittersweet ending to relieve an otherwise overwhelming sense of gloom and despair. Parts Two and Three (entitled 'Absence' and 'The Return') will see those left behind struggling to pick up the pieces. A distraught Ismaël rejects attempts to reach out to him by both Alice and Julie's older sister Jeanne (Mastroianni). He finds a new love, the young Erwann (Leprince-Ringuet) - but not before he has exorcised a ghost from his past. And so, at last the winter's chill slowly begins to thaw.

Despite its abundance of lyrical performances, Les Chansons D'Amour is hardly a musical in the Hollywood sense. Its songs are not accompanied by elaborate dance routines. The hyperbolic excesses of Busby Berkeley or Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musicals are replaced with low-key restraint. Honoré's film positions itself in the alternative tradition of the French musical. Its explicit three-part structure, as well as the presence of Catherine Deneuve's daughter Mastroianni, references Jacques Demy's Umbrellas Of Cherbourg (1964), while the casting of Sagnier recalls François Ozon's 8 Women (2002) - and one can also find echoes of Alain Resnais' On Connaît La Chanson (1997) and Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau's Jeanne Et Le Garçon Formidable (1998). The emotions that the songs impart always seem real, and pack a punch, as Beaupain's lyrics, now saucy, now sombre, encapsulate feelings of love, longing and loss that are as universal as they are particular.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Clotilde Hesme, Brigitte Roüan, Ludivine Sagnier, Chiara Mastroianni, Louis Garrel, Jean-Marie Winling, Alice Butaud, Annabelle Hettmann, Yannick Renier, Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet
  • Director: Christophe Honoré
  • Screen Writer: Christophe Honoré, Alex Beaupain
  • Producer: Paulo Branco
  • Photographer: Rémy Chevrin
  • Composer: Alex Beaupain

In a nutshell

Like a good pop song, Honoré's film remains within its familiar forms but still speaks to the heart.

by Anton Bitel

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