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Love Etc. Review

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Devil-may-care Pierre (Berling) keeps reminding amiably nerdy pal Benoit (Attal) how bad he is with les femmes, until the latter clicks with art restorer Marie (Gainsbourg) through a lonely hearts column.

★★★★★

When it comes to matters of the heart, no nation's cinema is more in tune than the French. Be it the intimate comedies of old master Eric Rohmer or the brash modern romances of young lions like Leos Carax. Marion Vernoux may not have either the range or bravado of the above yet her bright and breezy adaptation of Julian Barnes' novel Talking It Over traces love's fickleness and faultlines with peculiarly Gallic esprit.

Devil-may-care Pierre (Berling) keeps reminding amiably nerdy pal Benoit (Attal) how bad he is with les femmes, until the latter clicks with art restorer Marie (Gainsbourg) through a lonely hearts column. Despite marrying the steadfast Benoit, Marie's attraction to Pierre is apparent, and he is strangely smitten by her. Initially rebuffed, he spies on her with lovesick desperation until the inevitable happens.

The film has a clutch of finely judged moments, the best being where the betrayed hubby confronts his wife's infidelity. Pitched between touching pathos and brittle comedy it's just about as good as it gets. Less persuasively drawn are the characters themselves. While Attal touches as the cuckolded spouse, the central dynamic is sorely undermined by Berling being unable to invest Pierre with real charm, engage our sympathy at his lowest ebb or convince us why Marie should find him so appealing.

One's disbelief is such that you think - or rather hope - for a brief moment that the seduction sequence is merely part of Benoit's distracted imagination.

Although Gainsbourg fares much better, her forceful screen presence allowing her to shine, the fact that she seems a passive participant in such a pivotal role is a tad disappointing.

Like love itself then, this is very much a thing of ups and downs.