Musical ennui

Ah, no one understands love quite like the French. Who else could concoct a romantic musical drama featuring a bisexual triad singing about things like saliva, rain and long-term relationships?

Christoph Honore’s 2007 film Love Songs has the distinction of being one of “pope of trash” John Waters’ favorite films. Salon film critic Andrew O’Hehir aptly described the film as a “blend of Francois Truffaut’s wistful Parisian sentimentalism and Pedro Almodóvar’s acrid polysexual comedy.”

Love Songs follows Ismael (Louis Garrel) and Julie (Ludivine Sagnier), a couple in the throes of an eight-year relationship threatening to bottom out, as they navigate the complexities of the ménage à trois.

Alice (Clotilde Hesme), a co-worker of Ismael’s, has taken root in their bed and life. After a month, the couple feelS like they might be in over their heads with the jealousy that plagues them both.

After an unexpected tragedy, Ismael and Alice must find outlets for their startling grief. Alice turns to Gwendal (Yannick Renier), a recent love interest, while Ismael is pursued by Gwendal’s high school-aged brother, Erwann (Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet). Trying in vain to lean on Ismael and dealing with issues of her own is Julie’s sister, Jeanne (Chiara Mastroianni).

Divided into three parts and with a distinct pastiche quality, Love Songs is structured around music written by Alex Beaupain. The characters spring into song spontaneously, but it somehow makes sense and is less campy than you would imagine.

The song lyrics tell much of the narrative, explaining the protagonists’ stale relationships and the bitter jealousies that have been sprinkled throughout their eight-year love affair.

Replete with bitter name-calling and the painful truths you rarely divulge, these songs are hardly upbeat but are wildly catchy even if you don’t speak French. You might not have any idea what the words mean, but they’ll get stuck in your head!

The film is a clear homage to Jean-Luc Godard in its attempt to emulate A Woman is a Woman, but don’t let the copycat aspect deter you. Love Songs is full of its own memorable moments, such as when Julie’s mother asks her to explain the positions involved in a threesome.

It’s also chock-full of the requisite postcard-perfect Paris scenery in elaborate montages and artistic winks from Honore, like Ismael’s scarf matching the French flag as he pursues liberty, equality and fraternity.

Possibly the one legitimate gripe is the performances. While Love Songs is certainly a drama, Garrel seems so focused on oozing ennui to the extreme that his character lacks dimension.

The actors do not have the kind of chemistry you might expect from a trio of 20-somethings exploring their sexualities together. While Julie and Ismael are moderately convincing as long time partners, they have zero sparks with Alice.

The only standout performance is from Mastroianni, which isn’t a surprise given her lineage; she’s the daughter of famous French actress Catherine Deneuve and Italian film star Marcello Mastroianni.

Love Songs earned Honore a Palm d’Or nomination at Cannes and the Special Jury Award at the 2008 Torino International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, in addition to a handful of other award nominations including four Cesars (the French Oscar equivalent).

Despite the international acclaim, the film majorly flew under the radar in the United States, only screening in half a dozen theaters nationwide. Whatever your end opinion on the plot or music, Love Songs has the charisma to stand on its own.

Film critic Mark Olsen expressed it best when he said, “Christoph Honore’s films aren’t just films you like—you develop weird little crushes on them.”
And Love Songs is no exception.