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Yvan Attal runs circles around Valeria Bruni Tedeschi in Cédric Kahn's balls-out story of love passion and emotional confusion, 'Regret'/'Les regrets,' a movie about a youthful love affair renewed fifteen years later when both lovers are married to other people. The heartbeats are fast, and even if it feels more like anxiety than passion, Kahn and his stars take us on a wild ride. This is a lot of silliness, but it's also fun and beautifully photographed, and it does powerfully evoke the feelings of adolescent romantic obsession -- except that the adolescent here is a a grown man acting very immature and unwise. If there's an American remake, it can't be this good, because the French can do l'amour fou better than we can.
Mathieu Liévin (Attal) is a middle-aged architect, married but without children, who runs into old flame Maya (Bruni Tedeschi) in the town square while back home with his mom dying in the hospital. The camera tracks in on both of them with that "gotcha' effect that means, these two folks are going to zoom in on each other pretty soon.
What follows is all the chaos and excitement of a first-rate thriller, but without any dead bodies,though there are moments when you wonder if Matthieu and Maya are going to make it through alive. Much reckless endangerment occurs here, as well as chasing cars and trains and running from a man armed with a chainsaw. Maya turns out to have a drunken husband called Frank (Philippe Katerine) who's in the wine business and has a tendency to hatch elaborate schemes involving outside funding. Maya is maddeningly indecisive. Fifteen years ago Matthieu and Maya parted because they were driving each other crazy. They get right back into it in short order, except that life now is much more complicated.
Matthieu's architect wife Lisa (Arly Jover) is pressuring him to enter competition for a major project. After his mother dies his ne'er-do-well brother wants to sell her house to pay off debts. Frank has his schemes, which Maya keeps committing to; she also has a daughter by a deceased African husband. The omnipresence of cell phones and the possibility of texting (energetically used, and romantic, here) seems to speed up the confusion and the wild pursuits. Maya is on and off about all this, ready to run off with Matthieu one minute, completely opposed the next.
Kahn, who wrote as well as directed, has experience with serial-killer, crime-suspense, and sexual-obsession themes, and the mood here is one of thinly veiled criminal insanity on the part of Matthieu, with Maya as an unreliable but often equally mad collaborator. The film is skillful at weaving this pattern of wild behavior impulsively around the obstacles of the principals' everyday lives and commitments. This is adultery, of course, but it's a pumped-up, hyperventilating kind that we've rarely seen on screen, a kind that looks more akin than usual to flat-out criminal activity and is paced like a thriller. Attal is good as the hyperactive lover in his second adolescence, and Bruni Tedeschi is convincing and superb looking as the old flame he can never see without grabbing and kissing and, more often than not. quickly making love to on a table top or a stairway. Full disrobing never occurs. Shouting matches can occur anywhere. Matthieu is continually confrontational, and Maya is unable to confront.
Some Phillip Glass pieces are particularly well used during a ominous car ride when the adulterous couple is rushing away together and their desperation seems suicidal. The good-looking images are thanks to cinematographer Céline Bozon.
None of this necessarily means anything, but Kahn is having fun with his blend of unlikely elements and he takes the viewer on an enjoyable ride. The near-absurdity of the behavior at times drew derision at Cannes. On the other hand, the feelings that are evoked seem perfectly valid as a description of the vagaries and torments of love -- in a brilliantly heightened and updated form.
Shown at Cannes, 'Les regrets' debuted theatrically in France September 2, 2009 to fair-to-good reviews. Shown as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center March 2010.
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