Written by Benoît Jacquot and Julien Boivent
Directed by Benoît Jacquot
French filmmaker Benoît Jacquot often crops up in discussions of overlooked auteurs of contemporary French cinema. His work is quiet, understated, and rarely finds a wide audience. Yet, efforts like Farewell My Queen, A Single Girl and The School of Flesh are heralded as among the best French efforts of their respective years. However, for every effort that wins the heart of niche audiences, the rest of his films are divisive and alienating. While a lack of consistency is perhaps working against him, many of his contemporaries are even bigger gambles: François Ozon is responsible for some beautiful films but more of his efforts are outright misses, and even heavyweights like Olivier Assayas deliver as many misses as successes. Perhaps it is the quietness of Jacquot’s style that works against him, his best efforts coming across as understated and his worst as dull.
3 Coeurs is unfortunately a weak effort by Jacquot, a fact only exasperated by how talented the cast is. The film is a whirlwind romance about a chance meeting between Marc (Benoît Poelvoorde) and Sylvie (Charlotte Gainsbourg). After talking all night they agree to meet the next week in the Tuilerie Gardens, an arrangement straight out of McCarey’s 1939 film Love Affair (or An Affair to Remember, whichever you prefer). Much like in the classical Hollywood movie version, fate intervenes and Marc suffers a heart attack and can’t make the meeting on time. Heartbroken, our heroine (beautifully brought to life by Gainsbourg) returns to her husband and moves to the United States with him. In the true spirit of a classic comedy of errors, Marc returns to the small town to find Sylvie, only to unknowingly fall in love with her sister, Sophie (Chiara Mastroianni).
This is a film that fails fundamentally in both style and narrative. Under different and perhaps more confident direction, the film could easily have thrived on the themes exploring the mysterious whims of the heart. It has all the elements of a larger than life love story, but is so quiet and restrained that the whims and passions of the characters become increasingly less credible. The strange coincidences that keep the unfortunate double romance a secret to the characters only reaches levels of annoying absurdity. As Jacquot’s direction lacks charm or whimsy, these moments ultimately seem artificial.
The performances are strong though, with Charlotte Gainsbourg in particular delivering a powerful performance as a wrought woman. One of the few good choices of the film’s direction is that it is appropriately reverent to Gainsbourg’s unique presence, the camera lingering appropriately on her face and movements. It is perhaps indulgent but some of the film’s most beautiful moments are in slow pursuit of her character, with the back of her head and her flowing hair holding a strong and integral presence within the film. This does help secure her importance; even as she is physically displaced from the primary narrative, it is essential that she remains at the forefront of our mind. While none of the rest of the cast are treated with the same reverence, they all shine far brighter than could ever be expected in such a lackluster romance.
3 Coeurs is one of the weaker entries in this year’s TIFF line-up. There is nothing obviously stand-out about either its story or form. While the performances are universally strong, they are not transcendent either. While it is not immediately clear why Jacquot is not as well known as some of his contemporaries who are equally inconsistent, it does stand to reason that weaker efforts such as this are doing him no favours.
–- Justine Smith
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