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I wonder why this gem of a film was released in secret, at least in the USA. I was literally dragged to see it by some friends - to whom I'll be eternally grateful. The film lives on its own with glances to the great Jacques Demy. Rains and umbrellas, songs and impossible love. Louis Garrel must be, by now, considered one of the greatest film presences of the new millennium. He is devastating and his relationship with the doomed Ludivine Sagnier has all the warmth and sexiness of the great romances. The entrance of the adorable Gregoire Leprince-Ruignet takes all our preconceptions and turns them around. This sensual coupling full of innocence has the power to seal a tragedy with love. I adored this movie and the makers should protest vigorously as the way the film was distributed in the United States.
I wish I could see this film at least another 3 or 4 times, before making this comment, but I can't wait telling the world (ah ah) how much I loved it! This film is a huge and wonderful homage to a great deal of things. 'Great things' such as love, life, death... and more 'minor things' (?) such as youth, friendship, music, Paris, actors and actresses, directors such as Stanley Donen, Jacques Demy, etc. And still, this film manages to stay incredibly fresh, new, full of veiled references (I couldn't help smiling with delight, when seeing Chiara Mastroianni under her transparent umbrella, a reference to her mother, Catherine Deneuve, in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg). And the film goes on like that, like on a tight rope, with actors perched on their frail voices, never ridiculous, always moving and/or witty. It keeps moving (never a dull moment) and it keeps moving you. Never vulgar, never cheap, never shocking. A marvel of lightness. Could it be the unbearable lightness of what we call life?
Just out of the theatre, I would like to share my impressions about
"Les Chansons d'Amour".
This movie is a rare jewel which is even more precious as France is changing so quickly at the moment. It reminds us that, at the end of the day, we are the only ones able to chose our own lives if not death. Actors and actresses are just perfect. Brigitte Rouan and Chiara Mastroiani in particular make you believe in a very vivid way that this French family exists somewhere.
I don't want to say anything about the storyline which is so moving. I began to cry at the first picture in black and white which... but I'd better stop right here.
I'm glad I bought the cd, I'm going to listen to it all evening.
I am so happy that such a movie exists.
Thank you (again) Christophe Honoré.
In my part of the USA, it is rare to come across a film like this. It
makes no attempt to compromise its Parisian point of view for American
audiences. This film allows an American audience the chance to get a
glimpse from the perspective of the contemporary French young adult.
There are plenty of French geographic and political reference to
confuse, but they, like the Parisian scenes, just give the film its
Others have provided detailed synopses of the story. I would rather you just take it as it comes and enjoy how different the plot development is. As a matter of fact, watch this film and try to appreciate how different it is from the ordinary American fare no simple boy meets girl romance here. These beautiful people aren't young, chic urbanites wearing designer clothes they can't afford, living in apartments featured in Architectural Digest. We have three young women (Ludivine Sagnier, Clotilde Hesme, and Chiara Mastroianni) who lack the assistance of a personal shopper or a Beverly Hills stylist, but do not lack beauty or sensuality. Also, as a 59 year old man, I have to mention Brigitte Roüan, who shows how attractive a French grandmother can be. The men are similarly attractive. Louis Garrel demonstrates why he is currently the hottest actor in France. Newcomer Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet is disarmingly charming.
But this is a musical. You will find no potential American Idols here. The actors are not going to dazzle you with vocal gymnastics. The numbers have no clever arrangements or over produced orchestration. You have evocative lyrics set to a score reminiscent of US folk music in the 1960s or more exactly, French coffee houses. One word of caution, the English subtitles are quite misleading at times. My college French is a little rusty, but a review of the French subtitles gave me an appreciation of how descriptive the lyrics are.
Finally, there is no gratuitous violence or nudity, but look for the number Ma Memoire Sale (My Soiled Memory), where Ismael begs to be cleansed of the painful memory of his lost love. Some may be shocked at the scene, but you can't deny the passion and pain that permeates the number.
I have downloaded the soundtrack and ordered the DVD for this is like a good French dish, an experience to linger over.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I remember watching Bertolucci's The Dreamers and thinking, "How
delightfully French!" Whatever we might think about French hospitality
(or lack of it) when we dine in Paris restaurants, France has a
cornucopia of national traits that can be a joy and inspiration to
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 (admittedly eroded slightly by recent governments). A passion for life. Cigarettes. An atheistic realism. The religion of good taste. A disdain for work - to let the higher faculties soar - we believe.
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 and his girlfriend Julie 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 sublimated by lovely voices as, "the rain falls without a care." Sexual details 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-like 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 like, "Your body like a flow of lava washing over me," and make it sound sexy and romantic.
I find 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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Forget Jacques Demy if you canthough one of 'Love Songs'' cast members
is Chiara Mastroianni, daughter of the Catherine Deneuve of Demy's
classic 'The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.' Honoré's 'Inside Paris'/'Dans
Paris' had one song written by Alex Beaupain, a duet between Romain
Duris and Joana Preiss, sung over the phone, Duris' delivery full of
reedy sweetness. This time the director has fulfilled a long-cherished
ambition and made a full-fledged contemporary musical, with all the
songs penned by Beaupain. It's set in the relatively gritty Bastille
section of Paris, and it's about a ménage à trois involving two girls
and a boy: Ismael (Louis Garrel), Julie (Ludivine Sagnier), and Alice
(Clotilde Hesme, Garrel's girlfriend in his father's 'Regular Lovers'),
whose life together leads to sorrow, separation, and resolution.
Beaupain and Honoré have collaborated for 'the film on 14 songs. 'Les
chansons d'amour' is also the director's third collaboration with Louis
Garrel, though he didn't plan it that way originally and Garrel had to
convince him he could do a singing role.
This quick follow-up to 'Dans Paris,' which like it, but musically, portrays love problems, family loyalties, and depression with an intermittently light New Wave-ish touch, is divided into three sections: Departure, Absence, and Return. Julie seems to accept Alice in the trio to please Ismael, but she wants him to herself and regrets his refusal to have a child. Perhaps she's imploding, because she drops dead in front of a boite, like River Phoenix in front of the Viper Club, but of natural causes.
Alice considers it only right to move out; she can't take the place of two women, and her bisexuality no longer protects her from the full onslaught of Ismael's (and Garrel's) impetuous charms. Ismael, whom Julie's family adored, moves quickly, if shakily, forward, but Julie's stagnant older sister Jeanne (Mastroiaani), who suffers from survivor guilt, keeps turning up (a little tiresomely) at the trio's apartment. Alice had recently connected with another guy, a Breton musician Gwendal (Yannick Renier, brother of Jérémie). She doesn't seem to need Gwendal any more either, but Gwendal's gay brother Erwann (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet of Téchiné's 'Strayed') conceives a passion for Ismael and begins stalking him. (Note calling Erwann a "college student" could mislead American readers because 'collège' generally means middle school, and he's very young.) When Erwann keeps turning up, Alice, who works at the same office as Ismael, thinks this is an indirect effort on Gwendal's part to get back together. Ismael realizes what Erwann's up to, though, and at first laughs it off and tells him to get lost.
But Ismael's lost himselfhe's half-Jewish and seems to represent the wandering, rootless type; we never see his family or hear of his origin in any detailand though he may have the gift of good cheer, he doesn't know where he's going, even sexually. As the film ends, he's actually settling into what's become both a romantic and a sexual affair with the determined Erwann--one of those young gay boys who knows early on exactly who he is and what he wants--and begs him, in the film's final line, "Love me less, but love me a long time." Honoré's collaboration on the screenplay with auteur Gael Morel may explain this highly gay-friendly resolution, which will no doubt startle, if not offend, some members of the original Demy generation. But a ménage à trois that's not bi- or gay-friendly wouldn't make much sensenot in this century, which Honoré, whatever his virtues and faults, firmly inhabits.
American viewers aren't as likely to appreciate the many rhymes between French film families and traditions appreciatively noted by Jean-Baptiste Morain in Les Inrockuptibles last June when this film debuted in Paris. What they may grasp and enjoy is the buoyancy and speed of Honoré's film-making, which makes a virtue of low-budget necessity. Harder to tune in to at times is the director's cheerful way with sadness and depression, to be found here as it was in 'Dans Paris.' Some of the songs may feel like wallowing in sorrow, but they're better seen as singing the way out of it. Honoré lets the song come to you straight, without video-ready production numbers or irony, and the actors all do their own natural singing, only occasionally with a little trouble in the lip-syncing of their pre-recorded voices. The trouble is Honoré doesn't seem to play very well stateside, and if 'Inside Paris' got a mediocre reception, the offbeat musical element may make his 'Love Songs' even less accessible to Americansthough the romance between Garrel and Leprince-Ringuet should go down well with gay viewers, and anyone might respond to the warm depiction of a first love. It's not that the songs are hard to take; it's their typically French lightness that may make them hard to grasp in this country, where people are used to being hit over the head. Likewise Louis Garrel's playfulness, to which this director has given increasingly free rein, can be enormously appealing if you're up for it, but seems to rub some audiences, especially Anglo ones, the wrong way. Nonetheless as time goes on this film clearly has passionate devotees all over. Mark Olsen's remark in 'Film Comment' rings true: "Christophe Honoré's films aren't just films you like--you develop weird little crushes on them." The songs in the film have a rich life on YouTube and there you can see the actors and composer performing them at the Divan du Monde in Paris at a CD launching. The audience understandably walked out singing some of the lines. They grow on you.
'Love Songs'/'Chansons d'amour' is part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series 2008 at Lincoln Center Feb. 29-March 9, 2008. US distributor IFC Films, US limited release from March 19, 2008.
One of the most beautiful moving movies I have seen in ages.
I had to watch it again again and again.
I do not want to give away too much of the story, It starts with a menage a trois in 21 first century Paris.
A major event happening at the very beginning and the movie is about how a whole family is coping or rather not coping.
Beautiful lyrics great music great acting.
It reminded me of Les Parapluies de Cherbourg in some parts.
It just blows your mind.
How to put into words a film with this sensorial density? It's clearly
not the simplest task. "Congratulations Christophe Honoré" could be a
good approach, maybe the best.
As a Portuguese, a traditional nation in the "European standards", I may say that this film surpasses my bounds when speaking of, let's say, "relational experimentalism". Even so, I found it astoundingly beautiful and I guess that picking-up the gay issue would be to diminish a film about life and what we make of it in our nowadays living.
To have lived in France for over a year, eventually helped me out to remark some interesting French particularities in the characters.
I found the humor in this film to be typically French. There's a scene were Ismael is Wrapping a pillow making a baby of it, asking everybody in the room to remain silent not to wake up the child that had just gotten asleep. Then, unexpectedly, he throws the "baby" right out of the window as he gets tired of the staging. This kind of uncompromising performances, risking the ridiculous, were undoubtedly a "déjà vu" for me.
The music is also a key element in the film and gives it a Parisian melancholical aura. The music is often used by 2 or more characters in the form of a dialog where they show their feelings and points of view. As they sing, the scenes are incredible well filmed either outdoor, in the endless avenues of Paris, or indoor in the cosiness of a warm bed in a cold winter night. Sometimes I felt as I was one of the characters right in the scene.
The anguish, the indecision and above all, the solitude are the marking subjects in a film that exposes in a crude manner how individualistic the society is becoming in France, and why not, in Europe.
It's a contemporary (timeless?) film about human relationships. In my opinion, the antithesis of the blockbuster cinema: The extravagance is replaced by beauty, the free nudity is replaced by sensuality and the easy laugh is avoided. The dialogs are intelligent, complex and they have ambiguous interpretation.
At the end of the movie, a phrase synthesizes it all: "Love me less but for a long time".
To assume the compromise revoking the emotional hurricane brought by fleeting relations will bring peace, at last.
I've been a fan of Louis Garrel ("The Dreamers") and Ludivine Sagnier ("Swimming Pool") for a few years now, so when I heard they were starring in a romance musical, I was really excited. "Les Chansons d'Amour" aka "Love Songs" met, actually exceeded, my expectations. The film is a gorgeous, sometimes poignant and subtly funny look at love and (straight, bisexual, homosexual) relationships in contemporary Paris. Its adorably improvised musical sequences, the beauty of the music and locations, the chemistry of the ensemble cast (Chiara Mastroianni, who looks a lot like her father, the late Marcello Mastroianni, delivers a captivating performance as Sagnier's sister), all add up to the enchanting final result. This is the third film director Christophe Honoré makes with Louis Garrel (after 'Ma Mère' and 'Dans Paris'), and they announced a sequel for 2011. I will definitely check it, but it will be hard to top "Love Songs", since it ended perfectly in my eyes. Whether the sequel will disappoint or not is another story; for now, just enjoy the real gem that these chansons are... "love me less, but love me a long time". 10/10.
A typically powerful French film proving France as a great film making
country! It is a dark comedy, with an intriguing structure...variously
sad, funny and bizarre in equal measures. Some have described it as a
musical comedy. It is not!
Intelligently choreographed performances from Louis Garrel as the central character, Ismael, from Ludivine Sagnier as his girlfriend Julie, from Clotilde Hesme as Alice, the third character in the love triangle. Chiara Mastroianni puts in a strong performance as Julie's sister, Jeanne.
Lovely images of grey, wintery Paris thanks to Rémy Chevrin; songs I want to hear again; memorable images of confused emotions and allegiances, and like Amelie,Delicatessen or Caché, it will stay with me a long time.
Brilliant, thanks Christophe!
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